From: Reuters
Published January 22, 2008 04:23 AM

UK rejects plan for EU trade steps against polluters

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it did not support proposed punitive trade measures threatened by the European Commission against countries that do not sign up to greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said proposals on Monday from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that importers may have to obtain emissions permits equivalent to those of the European competitors "might look like trade barriers."

"We believe in global trade, we want more of it in the future, not less, and that is good for the European economy," Wicks told BBC radio. "So we are against any measures which might look like trade barriers."

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"There is always the danger that the protectionists in Europe ... could use this as a secret weapon... to bring about protectionism."

Brussels is due to announce on Wednesday a raft of new climate change policies, to kick in from 2013, aiming to boost low carbon-emitting businesses while trying not to harm traditional high-polluting industries such as steel.

The European Commission is eager not to harm European business and the wider economy by taking on tough carbon emissions targets that are not matched elsewhere -- for example in the United States, India or China.

With this in mind, Barroso told a business audience in London on Monday the Commission might also "require importers to obtain allowances (emissions permits) alongside European competitors."

Wicks said there was a potential issue if European industries were tied to much tougher and more expensive emissions requirements when those in other countries were not.

"We need to look at that," Wicks said. "But I think we would favor a more sensitive approach."

"We put our faith in international agreements," he added. "We need more and more countries to take carbon seriously and to initiate schemes like emissions trading schemes. That would be our approach."

Asked specifically about Britain's efforts to increase energy generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar, Wicks said Britain accepted it needed "a step change -- almost a revolution -- in terms of bringing forward renewables."

He said there was "no doubt" Britain would meet its share of the European Union target on renewables, due to be set on Wednesday, but admitted London may have to buy a "small proportion" of that target from other countries.

(Editing by James Jukwey)

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