The European Union imposed tariffs on U.S. biodiesel to help EU producers counter American subsidies and price undercutting, threatening to raise trans-Atlantic trade tensions.
The duties are to punish U.S. manufacturers of biodiesel, a type of biofuel made from vegetable oils and animal fats for use in diesel engines, for receiving government aid and selling in the EU below cost. The companies targeted include Archer Daniels Midland Co., the world’s largest grain processor, and Cargill Inc., the biggest U.S. agricultural company.
EU imports of biodiesel from the U.S. were worth at least 400 million euros ($511 million) in 2007. The trade protection is for four to six months and may be prolonged for five years.
“Unfair subsidization and dumping of U.S. biodiesel have taken place,” Lutz Guellner, trade spokesman at the European Commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm in Brussels, said in an e-mailed statement today. “This is harming an otherwise competitive EU industry, with potentially dire long-term effects.”
The biodiesel import taxes follow criticism in Europe of a “buy-American” clause in U.S. economic-stimulus legislation, World Trade Organization pledges to guard against a resurgence in protectionism and warnings from experts that such a trend would deepen the worst crisis since World War II.
The duties are the preliminary outcome of two EU probes opened last June at the request of the European Biodiesel Board, which represents about 60 companies including Biopetrol Industries AG in Germany and Diester Industrie in France. The duties to counter subsidies are as much as 237 euros a metric ton (2,205 pounds) and the levies to fight below-cost, or “dumped,” imports are up to 208.20 euros a ton.
The EU response is “robust” and “will re-establish the level playing field that our producers have long hoped for,” EBB Secretary General Raffaello Garofalo said in a statement. “In the absence of such measures, the viability of our industry would have been in clear jeopardy.”
Imports of biodiesel from the U.S. accounted for 17.2 percent of the EU market in the 12 months through March 2008 compared with 0.1 percent in 2004, according to the commission. The European market share of imports from the U.S. was 0.4 percent in 2005, 1 percent in 2006 and 11 percent in 2007, the commission said.
Decatur, Illinois-based ADM faces an anti-subsidy duty of 237 euros a ton and an anti-dumping duty of 23.60 euros a ton. Cargill, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, faces an anti-subsidy levy of 213.80 euros a ton and an anti-dumping levy of 60.50 euros a ton.
When the EU opened its two probes last year, the U.S. industry represented by the National Biodiesel Board dismissed the notion that it was responsible for the difficulties of European producers, saying they suffered from high feedstock costs, policy changes in Europe and “in some cases — poor business practices.”
The subsidy and dumping cases highlight tensions accompanying EU and U.S. efforts to expand global trade in biofuels. Biofuels, which also include ethanol, are a renewable energy from crops such as rapeseed, corn, wheat and sugar.
The EU decided last year to require at least 10 percent of land-transport energy in each member country to come from renewable sources led by biofuels beginning in 2020. This is part of a broader goal of more than doubling the overall share of renewable energy in the EU to an average 20 percent.
Under EU trade practices, the commission has nine months from the start of an investigation to decide on provisional measures. EU governments have 13 months from the beginning of an inquiry to impose “definitive” five-year anti-subsidy duties and 15 months to impose definitive anti-dumping measures.