Thursday, April 23, 2009

US and Green Protectionism

The US move to become "greener" may have wider political implications. Such protests were not unexpected but China has a point.

Chinese official warns US on protectionism [FT]

A top adviser to the Chinese government on Tuesday warned that a proposed US border tax on carbon sensitive materials “smells of protectionism” and could spark retaliation from developing countries.

During a speech at New York University about how the US and China can forge a closer partnership, Tung Chee-hwa, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Chinese government’s official advisory, said that a proposed “border adjustment” programme could be challenged through the World Trade Organisation and that he was “distressed” by the new bill introduced to Congress.

The programme in question was introduced earlier this month by two powerful Democrats in the House of Representatives. The bill includes aggressive climate targets to be met through a green house gas emissions cap and trade programme, where companies would be eligible for rebates to compensate for cost they incur. More controversially, the US government would be able to levy import taxes on foreign manufacturers to cover carbon contained in US-bound products.

“This is particularly unfair to China,” Mr Tung, who was chief executive of Hong Kong from 1997 until 2005, said.

In March, Steven Chu, US energy secretary, told Congress that a carbon border tax would help “level the playing field” with countries with looser carbon standards.

The legislation, introduced by Henry Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Edward Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts and Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, aims to cut green house gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and by more than 80 per cent by 2050, from 2005 levels.

The draft proposal would require electricity suppliers to get 25 per cent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2025. It would establish a national renewable energy standard and an energy efficiency standard aimed at cutting power demand by 15 per cent by 2020 and natural gas demand by 10 per cent.

On Tuesday Mr Tung said that China was taking its own aggressive measures to combat climate change but that he was concerned about the US taking a more protectionist stance.

“The lesson from 1929 was that we went to protectionism and the whole world collapsed,” he said. “China and America are on the same boat.”

A vote could on the border tax bill could come as early as June, with the Senate expected to make its proposal in the autumn.


.