China talks tough over EU aviation rules

The eastern giant has promised to ground European planes in its airports if the EU gets heavy-handed over aviation emissions row.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

In a muscle-flexing display that kicks dirt in the eye of EU legislators, China has warned that it will impound European planes if EU airports are too strict about emissions. The EU has introduced legislation that would ground planes or fine operators who fall foul of new regulations on the fuel efficiency of planes in European airspace, but China has decided it does not want to play ball.

This is not just a rumour blown out of proportion: the threat of retaliation has come from the China Air Transport Association (CATA). Chinese airlines have actually been told by the government not to comply with the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, and have already refused to meet the 31 March deadline for filing carbon emission information with EU officials. 

The scuffle, which is being described as a ‘bilateral reprisal’ by the UN’s aviation body, was compounded after the secretary of the CATA, Wei Zhenzhon, said Chinese airlines were ‘unanimous on this. We won’t provide the data.’ He added that the country would try to ‘avoid any trade war’, but said that anti-sanction measures would be taken by airport officials in China if the EU insisted on imposing punishments.

Furthermore, the situation is already worse than a tit-for-tat, plane-grounding exercise: major aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus claim that China is delaying orders worth as much as $14bn because of the row with the EU. This is bad news for the eurozone economy, which does rather well out of aerospace manufacturing.

EU officials have said that they will withdraw the scheme if countries can group together and come up with a viable alternative for combating soaring emissions levels in the aviation industry. But in lieu of that, we’re left in a bit of a pickle. The EU’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, has told airlines that they have until mid-June to submit the emissions data, or ‘enforcement’ action will be taken. 

MT reckons the stalemate is unlikely to be broken by the EU, though. More likely, China will simply say ‘nice try, guys, but we still ain’t gonna listen.’ And let’s face it: we really, really need the Chinese on our side if the eurozone goes to hell in a hand basket…

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