Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips
Chapter 11: The governance of primary commodities: biofuel certification in the European Union
Biofuels are transport fuels made largely from farm products such as maize, palm oil, rapeseed, sugarcane and soybean. Despite being promoted as a green alternative to fossil fuels they quickly became contentious among environmental campaigners, linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss and even increased greenhouse gas emissions. Responding to these concerns, the European Commission passed legislation in 2009 which required biofuels sold in the European Union (EU), including those imported from developing countries, to meet new, more demanding, sustainability standards. In its own words, this became 'the most comprehensive and advanced binding sustainability scheme of its kind anywhere in the world' (CEC 2010a: 1). In two important ways, this legislation represented a watershed moment in the governance of primary commodities. First, the standards were applied not to the product itself but to the way it was produced, known in trade jargon as a 'process and production method'. This was significant given previous trade rulings under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) which had made clear that discrimination in favour of 'dolphin-friendly' tuna and 'turtle-friendly' shrimp would be difficult to uphold. For some observers, discrimination in favour of 'eco-friendly' biofuels was simply the latest manifestation of green protectionism (Erixon 2012). Yet, to the extent that the EU has avoided legal challenge to its market access arrangement, it has suggested that an expanded remit for environmental stewardship within the multilateral trading system may be possible.
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