Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Meyer: Explaining Energy Disputes at the World Trade Organization

Timothy Meyer (Vanderbilt Univ. - Law) has posted Explaining Energy Disputes at the World Trade Organization. Here's the abstract:

The WTO and the broader international trade regime have seen an explosion of challenges to government support for renewable energy in the last seven years, while no country has brought a formal dispute challenging fossil fuel subsidies in the GATT/WTO’s history. This pattern is puzzling because global fossil fuel subsidies dwarf global renewable energy subsidies. Moreover, it suggests that WTO rules may slow the transition to clean energy. Renewable energy technology must compete with highly subsidized fossil fuels, while trade rules as actually applied restrict subsidization only for the former. Existing explanations for the absence of trade challenges to fossil fuels have focused primarily on the lack of a mandate within the WTO. Major fossil fuel exporters have not historically been GATT/WTO members; WTO rules allegedly do not apply to energy or are inadequate to deal with the specifics of energy trade; or even if they do, nations have developed separate institutions, such as the IEA or the Energy Charter Treaty, to govern energy.

This article argues that, although these explanations have some explanatory power, they cannot fully or satisfactorily account for the pattern of WTO energy disputes in light of the recent focus on some forms of energy in the WTO but not others. Instead, I hypothesize that the economic diversification of energy-producing countries plays a major role in driving challenges to renewable energy subsidies and support policies, but not fossil fuel subsidies. It does so in two ways. First, domestic political economy considerations within fossil fuel exporting countries produce fossil fuel policies less amenable to challenge before the WTO. Second, states challenging energy subsidies expect to have greater success in changing the respondent’s behavior when the respondent has diversified exports. Renewable energy technologies tend to be produced in countries with diversified economies, while fossil fuel reserves are located overwhelmingly in countries with little diversification in their exports. The major implication is that WTO rules and dispute resolution practices may disadvantage new technologies that compete with incumbent natural resource commodities.