EU 'will not hesitate' to protect its industry over carbon: commissioner

MADRID (Reuters) - The European Union will not hesitate to take steps to protect its industries from competitors who do not respect the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming, the EU’s top climate official said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President-Designate of the European Commission, attends a meeting of the College of EU Commissioners in Brussels, Belgium October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Asked about the EU’s position on a possible “carbon tax” on imports from high-emitting competitors, EU climate commissioner Timmermans said he hoped there would be no need to take such a step as the world moves to implement the Paris accord.

“I hope then there will be no need for such a measure, but if it is necessary, we will not hesitate to take it,” Timmermans told a news conference at U.N. climate negotiations in Madrid.

In October, Timmermans said research would begin on the new tax, intended to protect European companies from unfair competition by raising the cost of products from countries taking inadequate action against climate change.

China, a major exporter of goods to the EU, fears such a tax would increase the price of its products in Europe.

The issue has emerged as a source of friction between China and the EU at a time when their cooperation is seen as vital to implementing the Paris accord, which aims to steer the world off its trajectory towards catastrophic warming.

Last week, He Jiankun, a professor at Tsinghua University who is travelling with China’s official delegation to the U.N. talks in Madrid, said a carbon tax would run counter to the principles of the Paris deal.

But Timmermans, who is also first vice-president of the EU executive, said Europe would not allow its industries to be put “in a much weaker position vis-à-vis others” if the bloc moved to curb greenhouse gas emissions faster than peers.

“If you take the same or comparable measures, there will be no need to correct anything at the border,” Timmermans said, referring to emissions cuts under the Paris deal.

“If you don’t, then of course, at some point, we will have to protect our industry that does take the measures.”

While a fast-growing youth-led movement is pressuring leaders to act, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to begin withdrawing from the 2015 accord has cast a shadow over the latest negotiations.

Supporters of tougher action on emissions see EU leadership as vital to ensuring the two-week U.N. talks conclude on Friday with a strong call for countries to raise the bar as the Paris deal enters a crucial implementation phase in 2020.

Editing by Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie