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An eco-tariff, also known as an environmental tariff or carbon tariff, is a trade barrier for the purpose of reducing pollution and improving the environment. These trade barriers may take the form of import or export taxes on products that have a large carbon footprint or are imported from countries with lax environmental regulations.[1][2][3][4] The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is a carbon tariff.[5]

International trade vs. environmental degradation

There is debate on the role that increased international trade has played in increasing pollution.[6] While some[who?] maintain that increases in pollution which result in both local environmental degradation and a global tragedy of the commons are intimately linked to increases in international trade, others have argued that as citizens become more affluent they'll also advocate for cleaner environments. According to a World Bank paper:

Since freer trade raises income, it directly contributes to increasing pollution levels via the scale effect. However, it thereby induces the composition (and) technique effects of increased income, both of which tend to reduce pollution levels.[7][8]

Proponents of environmental tariff implementation have highlighted that if implemented correctly, the tariff could serve to stop strategic behavior of foreign nations and return efficient economic policy in the foreign country. Additionally, environmental standards will be harmonized between the trading nations as a result of the environmental tariff.[9]

One of the major issues that are raised when discussing environmental tariffs, is the issue of a reduction in trade. The argument raised is that tariffs reduce trade and may not actually be targeting the actual source of the pollution. They argue that pollution is not just as a result of imported goods but a large part of pollution suffered occurs within the borders of a country, therefore trade would merely harming trade without actually addressing the root cause effectively.

Early tariff implementation proposal

Although the United States has in the past been accused of dragging its feet on implementing tough new anti-pollution measures, it was the originator of a legislative proposal suggesting an environmental tariff be applied against exporting countries whose exports gained significant cost advantages due to less stringent environmental regulations. The proposed legislation was tabled as the International Pollution Deterrence Act of 1991 and was introduced in its Senate in April of that year.[10]

Doha Ministerial Declaration

Negotiations took place in 2001 Doha, Qatar, towards the improvement of work related issues concerning the implementation of present agreements. This was a mandated conference dubbed the Fourth Ministerial Conference. One of the issues discussed concerned the issues of trade barriers on environmental goods and services. The result of which was ministers agreeing to a reduction or complete removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services such as catalytic converters and air filters to name a few.

Proposed International Pollution Control Index

A notable feature of the proposed U.S. International Pollution Deterrence Act was the international pollution control index it cited within its Section 5, which read:[11]


Section 8002 of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6982) is amended by adding the following new subsections at the end thereof:

`(t) The Administrator shall prepare, within one hundred and twenty days of the enactment of this section and yearly thereafter, a pollution control index for each of the top fifty countries identified by the Office of Trade and Investment of the Department of Commerce based on the value of exports to the United States from that country's attainment of pollution control standards in the areas of air, water, hazardous waste and solid waste as compared to the United States. The purpose of this index is to measure the level of compliance within each country with standards comparable to or greater than those in the United States. The Administrator shall analyze, in particular, the level of technology employed and actual costs incurred for pollution control in the major export sectors of each country in formulating the index.

Currently implemented eco-tariffs

The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism of the European Union

The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is a carbon tariff on carbon intensive products, such as steel,[12] cement and some electricity,[13] imported to the European Union.[14] Legislated[15] as part of the European Green Deal, it takes effect in 2026, with reporting starting in 2023.[16][17] CBAM was passed by the European Parliament with 450 votes for, 115 against, and 55 abstentions[18][19] and the Council of the EU with 24 countries in favour.[20] It entered into force on 17 May 2023.[21]

A similar UK CBAM will be implemented by 2027.[22]

Border Carbon Adjustment in California

California has a carbon border adjustment mechanism for imported electricity.[23]

Implementation problems and resistance

Environmental tariffs may result in the movement in production of goods to areas in which stricter environmental standards are enforced. Environment tariffs were not implemented in the past, in part, because they were not sanctioned by multilateral trade regimes such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a fact which generated considerable criticism and calls for reform.[3]

Moreover, the GATT does condone the use of tariffs as market interventions, so long as the interventions do not discriminate products, both foreign and domestic. A disputed case relating to this policy was brought forth to the GATT/WTO, involving the U.S. and Canada over Canadian environmental regulations on beverage containers.

Additionally, many foreign factory owners in newly industrialized countries and underdeveloped countries saw the attempts to impose pollution controls on them as suspicious...

"...seeing it as a threat to their growth and fearing that developed countries would attempt to export their preferences for pollution control or to place 'environmental' tariffs on imports from countries with lower standards."[24]

Moreover, the problem of what the ideal tariff level is also a cause for concern when implementing environmental tariffs.

Further implementation problems have been as a result of what some developing nations[which?] may view as green protectionism. Green protectionism is the use of methods meant to address legitimate environment goals for the end goal of protection of domestic industry.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Mani, Muthukumara S. (1996). "Environmental tariffs on polluting imports". Environmental and Resource Economics. 7 (4): 391–411. doi:10.1007/bf00369626. ISSN 0924-6460. S2CID 152590275.
  2. ^ Morin, Jean-Frédéric; Orsini, Amandine (11 July 2014). Essential Concepts of Global Environmental Governance. Routledge. ISBN 9781136777042.
  3. ^ a b Kraus, Christiane (2000), Import Tariffs as Environmental Policy Instruments, Springer, ISBN 0-7923-6318-3, ISBN 978-0-7923-6318-7
  4. ^ Keohane, Robert O.; Colgan, Jeff D. (20 September 2021). "Save the Environment, Save American Democracy". Foreign Affairs. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  5. ^ "The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism : inspiration for others or Pandora's box?". Archived from the original on 3 October 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  6. ^ Horvath, John Salami Tactics, Telepolis, at online, 2000. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
  7. ^ Trade, Global Policy, and the Environment, Pg. 56, Fredriksson, World Bank, World Bank Publications, 1999, ISBN 0-8213-4458-7, ISBN 978-0-8213-4458-3
  8. ^ Dean, Judith M & Lovely, Mary E (2008), Trade Growth, Production Fragmentation, and China's Environment, Pgs. 3 & 5, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 13860, Cambridge, MA. Archived 2010-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Xing, Yuqing (2006). "Strategic Environmental Policy and Environmental Tariffs". Journal of Economic Integration. 21 (4): 861–880. doi:10.11130/jei.2006.21.4.861.
  10. ^ International Trade and Climate Change: Economic, Legal, and Institutional Perspectives Pg. 36, World Bank Publications, 2007, ISBN 0-8213-7225-4, ISBN 978-0-8213-7225-8
  11. ^ S 984 IS: International Pollution Deterrence Act of 1991 (Introduced in Senate)[permanent dead link] U.S. Congress Thomas online database, 102nd Congress, 1st session, 25 April 1991. Retrieved 2009-06-07
  12. ^ "Why Ukraine peace talks are more about talking than peace".
  13. ^ Gore, Tim (13 September 2021). "The proposal for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism fails the ambition and equity tests". Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  14. ^ Oung, Angelica (2 October 2021). "Ministry urges firms to step up decarbonization". Taipei Times. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  15. ^ Smith-Meyer, Bjarke (14 September 2021). "OECD boss: Digital tax deal can inspire global deal on carbon pricing". Politico. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  16. ^ Catrain, Lourdes; Seeuws, Stephanie; Schroeder, Stefan; Poll-Wolbeck, Finn; Maruyama, Warren H.; Hawkins, Gregory M. (9 September 2021). "The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism : inspiration for others or Pandora's box?". Archived from the original on 28 September 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  17. ^ Hancock, Alice; Espinoza, Javier (18 December 2022). "Brussels agrees details of world-first carbon border tax". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  18. ^ "Carbon border adjustment mechanism as part of the European green deal". Legislative Train Schedule (European Parliament). 20 November 2022. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  19. ^ "Results of Votes (22 June 2022)" (PDF). European Parliament. 22 June 2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  20. ^ Council (2023). "Voting record".
  21. ^ "Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism". European Commission. European Union. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  22. ^ "Factsheet: UK Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism". GOV.UK. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  23. ^ "California ETS Border Carbon Adjustment". Model Laws for Deep Decarbonization in the United States. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  24. ^ Leonard, Jeffrey H., 1988, Pollution and the Struggle for the World Product: Multinational Corporations, Environment, and International Comparative Advantage Pg. 69, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-34042-X, 9780521340427

Further reading