"The EU will not accept that goods that do not comply with environmental standards compete unfairly with European products, while harming our planet," said European Council President Charles Michel at the Brussels Economic Forum on September 8.

A project that has been in vogue for several years, notably championed by Presidents Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and then Macron, the carbon adjustment mechanism at the European Union's borders on imported products - more commonly referred to as a carbon tax - follows a fairly simple thread: in addition to the selling price of imported products and services, a cost is added that is calculated according to the carbon emissions of the product or service in question.

While this idea has often been ignored for obvious reasons of preserving trade with non-European countries, the health crisis, which is the designated promoter of a wave of economic protectionism, has shifted the cards in its favor.

Already envisaged in the EU's 2020 recovery plan, the MEPs meeting in plenary session finally accepted it in principle on Wednesday 10 March and a draft should be presented to the Commission in June. The actual implementation of the latter should take place during 2023.

For Eric Maurice, director of the Brussels office of the Schuman Foundation, there are several interests: "The carbon tax at the borders allows Europe to assert itself and to show that it is defending itself against climate dumping. There are two logics: the Green Deal and trade defense.

While the carbon market is beginning to demonstrate its effectiveness on emissions generated within the European territory (greenhouse gas emissions from companies included in the carbon market decreased by 8.7% in 2019 compared to the previous year), the first step of this green deal aiming at reducing carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 within the European Union will not be effective without the combined efforts of intra and extra European trade partners.

Research indicates that for every 10 tons of carbon saved in Europe, emissions increase between 0.5 and 3 tons in the rest of the world.
In addition, the European Union is the region with the most imported emissions in the world.
In France, for example, they represent 37.6% of the total carbon footprint of households.

From a purely economic point of view, the latter could bring in between 5 and 14 billion euros for Europe and would put a stop to the relocation of certain companies to territories where green taxation is more advantageous.

However, several consequences - and not the least - are to be feared.
The first is that international trade organizations from countries where this tax does not exist may agree to trade with each other.

Second, the current negotiations could affect ongoing trade negotiations, giving additional weight to countries that do not share the European vision of this project. John Kerry, special envoy for the fight against global warming in the United States, said he was "concerned" about the consequences of this project, which could interfere with ongoing negotiations at the OECD on the digital taxation of large multinationals and the resolution of the Airbus-Boeing dispute.

Moreover, nothing indicates that such a device would be consistent with the law of the International Trade Organization (WTO). It is for this reason that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the aforementioned organization did not hesitate to share her questions about the latter, fearing that it is "discriminatory" and that it "protects local producers from others, or disadvantages local producers compared to others.

Finally, some countries do not have enough information on the CO2 they emit for the manufacture of products and others could minimize them, it will then be necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the establishment of control bodies.

At the European level, the project is also being debated. While it is mostly supported by developed countries, small countries fear that it will slow down their imports.
In any case, it will probably depend on Europe's ability to create a consensus, both within and outside its borders.