EU threatens trade partners over global warming
Brussels (AFP) Jan 23, 2008
The European Commission brandished the threat on Wednesday of imposing restrictions on imports from countries that fail to follow its lead in tackling global climate change.
European industry and business have warned that tough EU emissions targets could force some companies to move production to countries with easier environmental regulations, such as China and the United States.
"There is no point in Europe being tough if it just means production shifting to countries allowing a free-for-all on emissions," Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told lawmakers at the European Parliament.
"An international agreement is the best way to tackle this," he added.
In the absence of an international agreement, the European Commission is to consider in 2011 whether safeguards are needed on imports from countries that do not match Europe's ambitions.
"An international agreement is our absolute priority," Barroso told reporters later. "But let me be clear, if we do not make progress we will protect European companies."
However, Barroso insisted that Europe was "not seeking to introduce protectionist measures" on Europe's trade partners. "What we are indeed asking them is to join us," he added.
Barroso said that trade restrictions would only be used if they were deemed to be in line with the rules of the World Trade Organisaion.
Europe has long sought to lead the world in the fight against global climate change by setting ambitious targets for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions.
But European governments are becoming increasingly frustrated that they are taking on huge burdens to meet those targets without similar efforts from countries such as the United States, China and India.
France has led calls for some sort of trade defence against products from countries that do not face as strict environmental standards as Europe and the issue has even caused divisions within the Commission itself.
While Industry Commissioner Guenter Verhuegen has supported the idea, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is opposed.
"I don't believe that trade restrictions are the way forward for combatting climate change," Mandelson said Monday after meeting with his US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
The mere whiff of restrictions on imports has troubled some of Europe's biggest trade partners.
Schwab said that Washington, which is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol on climate warming, was "dismayed at a variety of suggestions where we see climate or the environment being used as an excuse to close markets."
However, European officials hope that whoever wins the US presidency will be more ambitious in tackling climate change.
Environmental issues have a higher thsan usual profile in the US presidential campaign, with White House hopeful Hillary Clinton vowing to slash greenhouse gases if she is elected.
In the absence of more ambitous efforts by President George W. Bush's administration, several US states, including California, have launched their own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
China and other emerging economy countries such as India have long argued that it is up to rich countries to cut their emissions the most while developing nations catch up.
Beijing has taken steps towards reducing its emissions, setting a goal of cutting its energy use by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010.
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Brussels (AFP) Jan 22, 2008
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