Domestic Climate Policies and the WTO

39 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2001

See all articles by ZhongXiang Zhang

ZhongXiang Zhang

Tianjin University - Ma Yinchu School of Economics

Lucas Assuncao

United Nations - Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Date Written: December 2001


Experience with existing multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) shows that trade measures agreed to within the MEAs themselves may not necessarily lead to a dispute between parties. On the contrary, there is a great chance that disputes may arise from national measures undertaken to fulfil those obligations under the MEAs. This possibility of conflict with their WTO obligations may well arise in implementing the Kyoto Protocol, given that Article 2 of the Protocol gives Annex 1 countries considerable flexibility in the choice of domestic policies to meet their greenhouse gas emissions commitments. It is highly likely that Annex 1 governments with differentiated legal and political systems might pursue their domestic policies in such a way as to unfairly favour domestic producers over foreign ones. Such differential treatments could occur in governing eligibility for, and the amount of, the subsidy, in establishing energy efficiency standards, in the determinations of the category of eco-labelled products and the procedures of establishing eco-labels, in the specifications in tenders, and in specifying condition for participating in government procurement bids. In case where a country unilaterally imposes a carbon tax, it may adjust taxes at the border to mitigate competitiveness effects of cheaper imports not subject to a similar level of the carbon tax in the country of origin. Measure of this sort may well raise complex questions with respect to the WTO consistency and the conditions under which border taxes can be adjusted to accommodate a loss of international competitiveness. All this clearly indicates the necessity of addressing policy coordination between the trade and climate regimes. Against this background, this paper discusses carbon/energy taxes, subsidies, energy efficiency standards, eco-labels and government procurement policies, and explores the potential interaction between these domestic climate polices and WTO rules. It highlights their potential conflicts, and argues that such conflicts can be avoided or at least minimized if WTO rules are carefully scrutinised at the time Annex 1 governments undertake measures to achieve the required reductions in emissions. The paper suggests an early process of pursuing consultations between WTO members and the Parties to the Climate Change Convention and points to the need of further exploring ways to enhance synergies between the trade and climate regimes.

Keywords: Carbon taxes, energy taxes, subsidies, energy efficiency standards, eco-labels, government procurement, WTO, climate change

JEL Classification: Q28, Q25, Q48, Q43, F18

Suggested Citation

Zhang, ZhongXiang and Assuncao, Lucas, Domestic Climate Policies and the WTO (December 2001). Available at SSRN: or

ZhongXiang Zhang (Contact Author)

Tianjin University - Ma Yinchu School of Economics ( email )

92 Weijin Road, Nankai District
Tianjin 300072
+86 22 87370560 (Phone)


Lucas Assuncao

United Nations - Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ( email )

Palais des Nations
Office E 8074
Geneva, 1211

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