Mixing trade and global warming — a recipe for disaster

Oh dear!  Staunch trade proponent Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute is in bed with radical trade opponent Lori Wallach of Public Citizen in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post today.  It seems Bergsten thinks there’s no chance of a legislative cap on CO2 emissions unless the U.S. does something to address the competitiveness issues, and he’s against “border tax adjustments” because of its potentially devastating effect on the world trading system.

That’s the good part.  The bad part is that both he and Wallach want to combine the two issues – global warming and trade – and deal with them together. That was a recommendation that the Peterson Institute for International Economics made in a study earlier this year. What that would mean still seems a bit vague.  According to the op-ed, this synthesis would involve —

. . . a new code of “best practices” on greenhouse gas emission controls, including establishment of “policy space” for countries to limit emissions without sacrificing the competitive position of their industries. The institute also recommended that countries adopt a time-limited “peace clause” in which pursuit of new trade barriers would be suspended while the negotiations proceeded, and that a global climate accord be linked to a new global trade accord.

The synthesis would seem to involve  countries agreeing to a “code” that would address restrictions on CO2 emissions  and be generally consistent with WTO rules even if some technical rules would be violated.  Countries signing up for the code would agree not to bring those technical issues to the WTO for dispute resolution (the “peace clause”).

Those “technical” issues, in practice, however, are likely to become substantive issues, as countries enact  a broad array of restrictive  measures to protect their own industries.  But, never fear, the Peterson Institute also recommends in its book that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or some international arbiter decide when a code member isn’t in compliance with its international commitments.  Then, if that’s the case, other code members could take trade reprisals against that non-complying member.

Does this sound like a simple plan that would run smoothly?  Not in my book.

The article concludes with a bit of hyperbole — that the “only way to solve our problems is to treat them together.”  Otherwise, we’ll have “paralysis.”

Given the fact that global warming policy prescriptions have been extremely controversial even before the Kyoto Protocol 12 years ago, and the fact that the WTO’s Doha Round for 8 years has been mired down in disagreements among rich and poor countries, does it seem likely that putting these two divisive issues together will produce harmony?