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The U.S. proposed carbon tariffs, wto scrutiny and China's reponses

  • Zhang, ZhongXiang

With countries from around the world set to meet in Copenhagen to try to hammer out a post-2012 climate change agreement, no one would disagree that a U.S. commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions is essential to such a global pact. However, despite U.S. president Obama’s recent announcement that he will push for a commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020, in reality it is questionable whether U.S. Congress will agree to specific emissions cuts, although are not ambitious at all from the perspectives of both the EU and developing countries, without imposing carbon tariffs on Chinese products to the U.S. market, even given China’s own recent announcement to voluntarily seek to reduce its carbon intensity by 40-45% over the same period. This dilemma is partly attributed to flaws in current international climate negotiations, which have been focused on commitments on the two targeted dates of 2020 and 2050. However, if the international climate change negotiations continue their current course without extending the commitment period to 2030, which would really open the possibility for the U.S. and China to make the commitments that each wants from the other side, the inclusion of border carbon adjustment measures seems essential to secure passage of any U.S. legislation capping its greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the joint WTO-UNEP report indicates that border carbon adjustment measures might be allowed under the existing WTO rules, depending on specific design features. Against this background, this paper argues that, on the U.S. side, there is a need to minimize the potential conflicts with WTO provisions in designing such border carbon adjustment measures. The U.S. also needs to explore with its trading partners cooperative sectoral approaches to advancing low-carbon technologies and/or concerted mitigation efforts in a given sector at an international level. Moreover, to increase the prospects for a successful WTO defence of the Waxman-Markey type of border adjustment provision, 1) there should be a period of good faith efforts to reach agreements among the countries concerned before imposing such trade measures; 2) WTO consistency also requires considering alternatives to trade provisions that could be reasonably expected to fulfill the same function but are not inconsistent or less inconsistent with the relevant WTO provisions; and 3) trade provisions should allow importers to submit equivalent emission reduction units that are recognized by international treaties to cover the carbon contents of imported products. Being targeted by such border carbon adjustment measures, China needs to, at a right time, indicate a serious commitment to address climate change issues to challenge the legitimacy of the U.S. imposing the carbon tariffs by signaling well ahead that it will take on binding absolute emission caps around the year 2030, and needs the three transitional periods of increasing climate obligations before taking on absolute emissions caps. The paper argues that there is a clear need within a climate regime to define comparable efforts towards climate mitigation and adaptation to discipline the use of unilateral trade measures at the international level. As exemplified by export tariffs that China applied on its own during 2006-08, the paper shows that defining the comparability of climate efforts can be to China’s advantage. Furthermore, given the fact that, in volume terms, energy-intensive manufacturing in China values 7-8 times that of India, and thus carbon tariffs impact much more on China than on India, the paper questions whether China should hold the same stance on this issue as India as it does now, although the two largest developing countries should continue to take the same positions on other key issues in international climate change negotiations.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 18976.

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Date of creation: 01 Sep 2009
Date of revision: 02 Dec 2009
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:18976
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  1. Xavier Labandeira and Jose M. Martin-Moreno, 2009. "Climate Change Policies After 2012," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Special I).
  2. Zhang, ZhongXiang, 2008. "Is it fair to treat China as a Christmas tree to hang everybody’s complaints? putting its own energy saving into perspective," MPRA Paper 12276, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Parry, Ian & Goulder, Lawrence & Williams III, Roberton, 1997. "When Can Carbon Abatement Policies Increase Welfare? The Fundamental Role of Distorted Factor Markets," Discussion Papers dp-97-18-rev, Resources For the Future.
  4. Zhang, Zhong Xiang, 1999. "Should the rules of allocating emissions permits be harmonised?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 11-18, October.
  5. ZhongXiang Zhang, 2003. "Open Trade with the U.S. without Compromising Canada’s Ability to Comply with its Kyoto Target," Working Papers 2003.68, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  6. Zhang, ZhongXiang, 2008. "Asian energy and environmental policy: Promoting growth while preserving the environment," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(10), pages 3905-3924, October.
  7. Zhang, ZhongXiang, 2003. "Why Has China not Embraced a Global Cap-and-Trade Regime?," MPRA Paper 12783, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jul 2007.
  8. ZhongXiang Zhang & Lucas Assunao, 2004. "Domestic Climate Policies and the WTO," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(3), pages 359-386, 03.
  9. ZhongXiang Zhang, 2010. "Copenhagen and Beyond: Reflections on China's Stance and Responses," Economics Study Area Working Papers 111, East-West Center, Economics Study Area.
  10. Roland Ismer & Karsten Neuhoff, 2007. "Border tax adjustment: a feasible way to support stringent emission trading," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 137-164, October.
  11. Bhagwati, Jagdish & Mavroidis, Petros C., 2007. "Is action against US exports for failure to sign Kyoto Protocol WTO-legal?," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 299-310, July.
  12. ZhongXiang Zhang, 2009. "Multilateral Trade Measures in a Post-2012 Climate Change Regime?: What Can Be Taken from the Montreal Protocol and the WTO?," Working Papers 2009.81, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  13. Zhang, ZhongXiang, 2000. "Can China afford to commit itself an emissions cap? An economic and political analysis," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(6), pages 587-614, December.
  14. Zhang, ZhongXiang, 1998. "Greenhouse gas emissions trading and the world trading system," MPRA Paper 12971, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  15. Trevor Houser & Rob Bradley & Britt Childs, 2008. "Leveling the Carbon Playing Field: International Competition and US Climate Policy Design," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 4204, March.
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