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Reject protectionism in climate talks: Jairam Ramesh

Ananth Krishnan

Developing nations meet to restrict trade penalties

TIANJIN: Climate officials from developing countries met here on Sunday to come up with a strategy to ensure that any climate agreement will have provisions to restrict attempts by developed nations to impose trade penalties on carbon emitters.

Officials from the BASIC group of developing countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China — have, in negotiations here this week, pushed for the introduction of a text to “reject the use of unilateral protectionist measures” by developed countries, said Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

“We would like this text to be reflected in the final agreement,” he said. “We believe that the trade issue is linked to the equity issue. You cannot delink the two.”

On Monday, Mr. Ramesh, along with Ministers from China, Brazil and South Africa, will meet to evaluate the progress made in last week's negotiations here, which was the last round before the year-end Cancun climate conference. Tackling “trade protectionism”, Mr. Ramesh said, would also be top of the agenda at Monday's meeting, which will also be attended by officials from Yemen, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Argentina and Egypt.

The United States and European countries have called for trade restrictions, known as border adjustments, on goods imported from countries such as India and China who do not agree to binding emissions reduction targets. They argue that import tariffs are needed to offset the loss of competitiveness industries in countries which accept binding targets are likely to face.

The text, which India first proposed in Bonn in August last year, says developed countries “shall not resort to any form of unilateral measures including countervailing border measures, against goods and services imported from developing countries on grounds of protection and stabilisation of climate”.

Violation

Mr. Ramesh said moves to do so would violate the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, he expressed concern over reports that have argued that some of the measures were compatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, under carefully crafted conditions.

“The report has come as somewhat of a shock to us,” he said. “Our opinion is that it is not WTO and UNFCCC compatible.”

Following the modest progress made in the past week, which was dominated by disagreements between China and the U.S., Mr. Ramesh reiterated his view that “there is no light at the end of the tunnel”, and a binding deal being reached in Cancun was out of the question.

Even on climate finance from developed countries, where talks last week indicated some progress, Mr. Ramesh said there was “no clarity”.

While the West had pledged $30 billion in the next three years as “fast start” projects, no money had, as yet, been distributed. He said India and China had both voluntarily withdrawn their claims to climate finance, so that the money would benefit Small Island States, Less Developed Countries and African nations.

“I don't think the West is playing cricket with a straight bat,” he added. “Frankly, the moral and political authority of the West has been eroded by their inability to put fast start finance on the fast track. If they haven't even been able to do this much, there is no credibility left.”

He also hit out at the failure of the U.S. to take on greater targets as the main stumbling block in the talks. Its commitments so far, he said, were “laughable”, and that the U.S. was not the only country that faced domestic hurdles against climate legislation.

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