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EU countries support plan for world-first carbon border tariff

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries on Tuesday backed the bloc’s plan to impose a world-first carbon dioxide emissions tariff on imports of polluting goods, although the finer details will need to be worked out in upcoming negotiations.

The EU wants to introduce CO2 emissions costs on imports of steel, cement, fertilisers, aluminium and electricity, a move aimed at protecting European industry from being undercut by cheaper goods made in countries with weaker environmental rules.

The costs would not kick in until 2026, according to the European Commission’s proposal for the measure, but a three-year transition phase would begin in 2023 – so EU countries and the European parliament are racing to negotiate and approve the final rules in time.

Finance ministers from EU countries on Tuesday agreed their negotiating position for the upcoming talks.

“It’s a major step forward in the fight against climate change,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said after the ministers’ meeting in Brussels, adding that a “sizable majority” supported the position.

“We’re making the effort to reduce carbon emissions in industry…we don’t want these efforts to be of no avail because we import products which contain more carbon,” Le Maire said.

The border levy is part of a package of EU climate change policies designed to cut the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

France, which currently chairs meetings of EU ministers, has long supported the levy and prioritised striking a swift deal on it. European parliament plans to confirm its position by July, meaning negotiations between parliament and EU countries on the final rules could begin after summer.

Europe’s climate goals will require huge investments from industry in green technologies like hydrogen, and impose higher CO2 costs on polluters. The border levy aims to ensure companies do not leave Europe for regions with lower costs.

The measure would gradually replace the free CO2 permits industries receive under the EU carbon market to help them stay competitive. How quickly to end those permits is contentious, and ministers left the details to be negotiated in separate talks on EU carbon market reforms.

Parliament’s lead lawmaker on the border levy, Mohammed Chahim, wants to end free CO2 permits by 2028. The Commission had proposed 2035, while some industries are lobbying to keep them.

The issue of whether revenue from the CO2 levy will go into the EU budget will also be discussed later.

EU countries back plan for world-first carbon border tariff

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