Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Free trade and renewables

When I read today that Turkey's Economics Minister personally stopped new legislation for renewables at the last minute recently, I thought the reason must be the one usually given by economists and industrial representatives: renewables are too expensive, it would create a bubble for uncompetitive technology, etc. But that is not the reason he gave.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no information available about this either in English or German, but my source in Turkey tells me that Ali Babaca (whom Wikipedia still has listed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs; he changed positions a few weeks ago) opposes the new legislation to promote renewables because systems would have to consist of 40 percent domestic parts. He says that the World Trade Organization would object.

I wonder if this is all just a ruse, and the real reason is that he just wants to oppose renewables. It seems strange for Turkey to take this position because renewables legislation in the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, Italy, and elsewhere (but never in Germany) contains such stipulations: a certain amount of the production has to be domestic.

I have always suspected that such stipulations were in clear violation of free trade rules, so it is interesting to hear an economic minister of such a large country make that case, even if it is only the ostensible reason behind some fundamental opposition.

Whatever the case, renewables proponents are generally not the ones who have been promoting the imposition of the West's free-trade rules on the world, so they are unlikely to champion the cause of free trade when it comes to renewables legislation. Nonetheless, it is two-faced for the developed world to insist on a certain level of domestic production in formulating its own subsidy policies. We would not allow less powerful countries to do so.

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