Argentina has requested consultations, the first step in the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure, with respect to the EU’s biofuels sustainability criteria, contained in RED, its renewable energy Directive. The development of biofuels criteria per se is full of pitfalls. For starters, the EU’s Directive has effectively skirted the issue of sustainability. As all students of environmental law and policy have been told ad nauseam, sustainable development has three pillars (ecological, economic, social), not just the one (ecological /environment) which the Directive has quantified. On social and economic impact of the EU’s regime, the European Commission is merely to report. Evidently, quantifying all three is not straightforward: witness also the demise of the Clean Development Mechanism, CDM, one of the flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
With respect to the environmental pillar, RED employs a standard value of CO2 emission reduction which for soybean biodiesel (the main export of Argentinian biofuel) is 31%. This falls short of the 35% required for renewable energy to count towards Member States’ renewable energy targets (and co-inciding fiscal and other incentives). In other words, fuel not meeting the standard can still be imported into the EU: but it will not be very popular (one can sense a de facto /de iure discrimination debate). One way of getting around the issue, is for individual shipments to show that they meet the 35% threshold with all the extra costs this implies (arguably imposing a measure equivalent to a quantitative restriction), or for the European Commission to recognise relevant voluntary schemes meeting the higher threshold through certification. An Argentinian scheme presented to the EC was not accepted by it.
The Argentinian request includes a long list of GATT and WTO obligations which it argues are infringed by the EU (and by relevant Member States implementing measures).
Having a Panel and Appellate Body express some rules of thumb for sustainability criteria (which Argentina explicitly says it does support in principle) would be very useful indeed.