Climate change: WTO Director-General warns against "spaghetti bowl" of unilateral policies

The idea of unilaterally imposing EU tariffs on non-climate-friendly imports, should there be no international accord on how to combat climate change, took centre stage at Thursday's (29th May 2008) Climate Committee hearing on competitiveness, trade, financing and sustainable employment. Compared with an international deal, such tariffs would be a distant second best, said World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Pascal Lamy.

The climate change problem, Mr Lamy told committee members, "will not be changed by one player." Unilateral steps "would only divert trade patterns", without making a "significant change" on a global scale. "I would caution against a spaghetti bowl of measures that achieve neither trade nor environmental goals", he said, adding that "a consensual international accord on climate change, one that embraces all major emitters" is, from the WTO perspective, the optimal outcome".

Trade measures to counter climate change?

Several MEPs pressed Mr Lamy on the implications of such "unilateral steps", should there be no international consensus on climate change. If the EU were to consider "border adjustment measures" on trade, asked Avril Doyle (EPP-ED, IE), would WTO rules defend the European position?
"If we're not successful at Copenhagen", where countries are expected to agree on a global climate change framework, "what kind of adjustments can we make?" asked Robert Goebbels (PES, LU). A tax that hits exporters, he added, "has no chance of getting by the WTO [...]. But what about a tax that hits importers of products from countries that don't subscribe to international climate change norms?".
"Is it fair for Europe to deal with climate change without any real attention for industries and jobs?" asked European Trade Union Confederation General Secretary John Monks. "If not, you should include a precise border mechanism in the ETS [emission trading system] directive", he said.