Can the EU square ethics with trade, should it even try in biofuels?

Can the EU square its desire to import only biofuels that conform to high ethical standards with the needs of free trade? That might sound like the kind of question we’d be covering in an ethics course (which thankfully we’re not). But it is possible that it could be left to the courts, a number of countries Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone,Indonesia and Malaysia say the EU’s policy amounts to tradebarriers.

According to carbonpositive:


Their ambassadors to the EU have drafted a joint letter,which Reuters claims to have seen, saying the safeguards “imposeunjustifiably complex requirements” on producer nations.



Now, if I was in the ethics class, my position would be that the countries are just whining. It is not as if there is anywhere that the EU would be sourcing its biofuels from that didn’t conform to its policy. I might make some points about the need for democracy, the rule of law, due process  to mean something in some of these countries and I might add a bit about civil society.

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2 Responses to Can the EU square ethics with trade, should it even try in biofuels?

  1. John 13 November, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    Hi There,

    Your post came through my reader this morning…Well I am in an ethics class in my doctoral program and we are discussing this very subject. One ethical issue that the EU is apparently trying to square is one of distribution rights and justice. Is it ok for the EU to encourage biofuel imports that may actually create a carbon debt in another country so that the EU may claim that they are reducing their own GHG emissions? It sounds like they are telling potential importers to clean up their act. Another side of the ethical issue has to do with fairness: developing countries see biofuel as way of gaining export income. Is it fair for the EU to dictate the terms? I would say yes. A utilitarian might argue that the net good to the society is achieved by the EU taking such an action. Remember that we seem find a lot of time recrimination for poor decision making after the damage has been done….

  2. Simon Robinson 13 November, 2008 at 4:30 pm #

    Interesting to see that the ethics of biofuels is worthy of study. For what its worth, I think that if the EU position simply pushes carbon dioxide generation into a different part of the world then it should be changed. I also think like utilitarians that it is fair for the EU to dictate terms in this area because the terms generally meet the needs of fairness and equity which we would expect domestic European producers to meet. Pragmatically, there is a little penalty for Europeans by implementing such a policy on third country providers. If it encourages greater respect for things that Europeans hold dear, rule of law, respect for property, human rights and to a lesser extent biodiversity, that will be all to the good.

    I’d be interested to hear if you have come to any conclusions about biofuels in general…

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