Renewable Energy Disputes in the World Trade Organization

Transnational Dispute Management, Vol. 12, Issue 3, pp. 1-5; Queen Mary School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 198/2015.
This article analyzes renewable energy disputes in the World Trade Organization (WTO), explores the specific WTO norms that have been, and are likely to be, engaged by trade-distortive measures that WTO Members may seek to argue have been taken to promote renewables, and advocates implementing stronger governance of energy trade and provides an analysis of the WTO’s treatment of renewable energy. It also discusses the impact of subsidies on different forms of energy and whether feed-in tariffs count as subsidies in the WTO context. Our conclusion is that the main obstacles to the scale-up and take-up of renewable energy are not normative/institutional per se. Rather, they are economic. The only systemic ‘obstacle’ that the WTO presents is its requirement that measures not be disguised mercantilism and that they be applied even-handedly. The WTO system, as it stands, could, and does, accommodate bona fide non-discriminatory measures that promote the scale-up and take-up of renewable energy. After all, we see that it tolerates conventional energy subsidies, which certainly are not predicated on the general exceptions to WTO rules or other dispensations, as these appear in the covered agreements. That said, while the system, as it stands, is considerably flexible towards externalities such as environmental protection objectives, further trade liberalization remains the system’s principal objective.
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