Thursday, February 14, 2013

Argentina, Spain and the battle over biofuels

I had earlier blogged about a WTO dispute between Argentina and Spain (DS443) over the Ministerial order pertaining to biofuels that was promulgated in Spain.The main thrust of the complaint was:
"The operative part of Ministerial Order (OM) IET/822/2012 provides that computing for mandatory biofuel targets may only be conducted in relation to biodiesel produced entirely in plants located on the territory of Spain or of another EU Member State, and in line with previously allocated volumes, in accordance with the procedure established in the same Ministerial Order. 
The Argentine Republic has since 2007 developed one of the most efficient biodiesel production sectors in the world and has now consolidated its position as the world's leading exporter of the product. The European Union is the main export market, and Spain is the main buyer on that market. In 2011, Argentine exports of biodiesel amounted to US$2.1 billion, with more than US$1.9 billion going to the EU and more than US$1 billion of the latter figure representing purchases by Spain. 
Ministerial Order (OM) IET/822/2012 and the implementation thereof would create discrimination between the product of European origin and that of other origins, implying a de facto prohibition on imports of biodiesel from outside the Community, for purposes of computing compliance with mandatory biofuel targets. This would totally exclude the Argentine product from the market. 
It is Argentina's understanding that the Spanish Ministerial Order and its implementation would in principle constitute an infringement of obligations, including, but not limited to, the obligations of that country and of the EU under Articles III:1, III:4, III:5 and XI:1 of the GATT 1994. Argentina also considers that the Order would be inconsistent with Articles 2.1 and 2.2 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), and with Article XVI:4 of the Marrakesh Agreement. Argentina considers that Ministerial Order (OM) IET/822/2012 would nullify or impair the benefits accruing to it under the covered agreements."
The legal challenge was as follows: 
"The key measure challenged by Argentina is the Spanish Ministerial Order regulating allocation of quantities of biodiesel needed to achieve the mandatory target of renewable energy.  This measure is the national implementation of the European Union regulatory framework for energy from renewable sources.  
Argentina claims that the Spanish measure is inconsistent with:
  • Articles III:1, III:4, III:5 and XI:1 of the GATT 1994
  • Articles 2.1 and 2.2 of the TRIMs Agreement; and
  • Article XVI:4 of the WTO Agreement."
News of Spain withdrawing the curbs on Argentinian biofuels was trickling in. Was it in response of the WTO complaint? Is this an example of the possible deterrent effect of the dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO? Do countries modify their national measures under the threat of a WTO action? Or is this more of a political move? In this case,on 6 December 2012, Argentina requested for the establishment of a panel. Will Argentina withdraw the WTO compliant now? With Spain having responded, many would say it is Argentina's turn to roll back some of its "protectionist" measures?

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