DISPUTE SETTLEMENT: DISPUTE DS426

Canada — Measures Relating to the Feed-in Tariff Program


This summary has been prepared by the Secretariat under its own responsibility. The summary is for general information only and is not intended to affect the rights and obligations of Members.

  

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Current status  back to top

 

Key facts  back to top

Short title:
Complainant:
Respondent:
Third Parties:
Agreements cited:
(as cited in request for consultations)
Request for Consultations received:
Panel Report circulated: 19 December 2012
Appellate Body Report circulated: 6 May 2013

  

Summary of the dispute to date  back to top

The summary below was up-to-date at

Consultations

Complaint by the European Union.  (See also DS412)

On 11 August 2011, the European Union requested consultations with Canada regarding Canada's measures relating to domestic content requirements in the feed-in tariff program (the “FIT Program”).

The European Union claimed that the measures are inconsistent with Canada's obligations under Article III:4 and III:5 of the GATT 1994 because they appear to be laws, regulations or requirements affecting the internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution, or use of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities that accord less favourable treatment to imported equipment than that accorded to like products originating in Ontario; that the measures could be internal quantitative regulations relating to the mixture, processing or use of a specified amount or proportion of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities which require that equipment for renewable energy generation facilities be supplied from Ontario sources; and that the measures appear to require the mixture, processing or use of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities supplied from Ontario in specified amounts or proportions, being applied so as to afford protection to Ontario production of such equipment, contrary to the principles of Article III:1 of the GATT 1994.

The European Union also claimed that the measures appear to be inconsistent with Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement because they appear to be trade-related investment measures that are inconsistent with the provisions of Article III of the GATT 1994.

Finally, the European Union alleged that it appears that a subsidy is granted under the measures because there would be a financial contribution or a form of income or price support, and a benefit is thereby conferred.  It is also claimed that the subsidy would be a prohibited subsidy under Articles 3.1(b) and 3.2 of the SCM Agreement because it appears to be provided “contingent … upon the use of domestic over imported goods”, namely contingent upon the use of equipment for renewable energy generation facilities produced in Ontario over such equipment imported from countries such as the European Union.

On 25 August 2011, the United States requested to join the consultations.  On 26 August 2011, Japan requested to join the consultations.  Subsequently, Canada informed the DSB that it had accepted the requests of Japan and the United States to join the consultations.

On 9 January 2011, the European Union requested the establishment of a panel.

 

Panel and Appellate Body proceedings

At its meeting on 20 January 2012, the DSB established a panel.  Australia, China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Chinese Taipei and the United States reserved their third party rights. Subsequently, Brazil, El Salvador, Korea, Mexico, Norway and Turkey reserved their third-party rights.

Following the agreement of the parties, the panel was composed on 23 January 2012.

On 13 June 2012, the Chairman of the panel informed the DSB that the panel would not be able to issue its report within six months.  The timetable adopted by the panel after consultations with the parties envisaged that the final report would be issued to the parties by September 2012.  However, due to the complexities of the dispute, it would not be possible for the panel to complete its work within this time-frame.  The panel now expects to complete its work by the end of November 2012.

On 19 December 2012, the panel report was circulated to Members.

Summary of key findings

  • The dispute concerns the domestic content requirements that must be complied with in the design and construction of certain electricity generation facilities utilizing solar photovoltaic and windpower technology in order to qualify for guaranteed electricity prices offered under the Feed-In Tariff (“FIT”) Programme, adopted by the Government of the Province of Ontario, as well as all individual FIT and microFIT Contracts implementing these requirements since the FIT Programme's inception in 2009 (“the challenged measures”).
     
  • The European Union claimed that the domestic content requirements provided for and implemented under the challenged measures place Canada in violation of: (i) the national treatment obligation under Article III:4 of the GATT 1994; (ii) the prohibition that is set out in Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement on the application of any trade-related investment measures that are inconsistent with Article III of the GATT 1994; and (iii) the prohibition on import substitution subsidies prescribed in Articles 3.1(b) and 3.2 of the SCM Agreement.
     
  • The Panel upheld European Union's claims under Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement and Article III:4 of the GATT 1994. After noting that the trade-related investment measures described in paragraph 1(a) of the Illustrative List found in the Annex to the TRIMs Agreement are considered to be inconsistent with Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement and Article III:4 of the GATT 1994, subject to the operation of inter alia Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994, the Panel set about determining: (i) whether Canada could rely upon Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994 to remove the challenged measures from the operation of Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement; and if not, (ii) whether the challenged measures were of the kind described in paragraph 1(a) of the Illustrative List.
     
  • The Panel found that Canada had not established it was entitled to rely upon Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994 because the Government of Ontario's procurement of electricity under the FIT Programme was undertaken “with a view to commercial resale”. The Panel furthermore found that the challenged measures fell within the scope of paragraph 1(a) of the Illustrative List.  The Panel thereby concluded that the European Union had demonstrated that the challenged measures were inconsistent with Canada's obligations under Article 2.1 of the TRIMs Agreement and Article III:4 of the GATT 1994.
       
  • As regards the European Union's prohibited subsidy claims under Articles 3.1(b) and 3.2 of the SCM Agreement, the Panel delivered a divided ruling.
     
  • The Panel majority dismissed the European Union's allegations on the grounds that European Union had failed to establish the existence of a subsidy. Among the Panel majority's key findings in support of this assessment was that the Hourly Ontario Electricity Price (“HOEP”) that was at the centre of the European Union's main benefit arguments could not serve as an appropriate benchmark against which to determine whether the challenged measures confered a “benefit” within the meaning of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement, because: (i) the HOEP did not result from the operation of a competitive wholesale electricity market, but rather a market that was significantly influenced by government regulation; (ii) the economics of competitive wholesale electricity markets in general suggest that they will rarely attract the degree of investment in generation capacity needed to secure a reliable electricity system; and (iii) the prevailing conditions of supply and demand in Ontario suggest that a competitive wholesale electricity market would fail to achieve this outcome in Ontario. Thus, the Panel majority concluded that there was no basis to uphold the European Union's subsidization arguments.
     
  • After having rejected the European Union's arguments, and in response to the European Union's specific request, the Panel majority set out its own observations on one approach it considered could have been validly pursued in these disputes to determine the existence of “benefit” under the terms of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement.  The Panel majority described the approach it contemplated as one that would involve making a comparison between the relevant rates of return of the challenged FIT and microFIT Contracts with the average cost of capital in Canada for projects having a comparable risk profile to the FIT and microFIT projects. The Panel majority went on to explain that, while this comparison would have been useful for the “benefit” analysis, it would have been necessary to explore a number of important questions and factual issues in order to apply it.
     
  • Finally, one member of the Panel expressed a dissenting opinion on the European Union's subsidization claims, finding that the European Union had demonstrated that the challenged measures conferred a “benefit” under the terms of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement.  For this member of the Panel, the challenged measures were subsidies because the pricing offered to relatively high cost and less efficient FIT and microFIT generators under the FIT and microFIT Contracts enabled them to enter the wholesale electricity market, when they would otherwise not have been able to in the absence of the FIT Programme implemented by the Government of the Province of Ontario.

On 5 February 2013, Canada notified the DSB of its decision to appeal to the Appellate Body certain issues of law covered in the panel report and certain legal interpretations developed by the panel.  On 11 February 2013, the European Union notified the DSB of its decision to appeal to the Appellate Body certain issues of law covered in the panel report and certain legal interpretations developed by the panel. On 4 April 2013, the Chair of the Appellate Body informed the DSB that due to the time required for completion and translation of the Appellate Body reports, it would not be able to circulate its reports within 60 days.  It was estimated that the Appellate Body reports would be circulated no later than 6 May 2013.

On 6 May 2013, the Appellate Body report was circulated to Members.

Summary of key findings

Canada filed a Notice of Appeal on 5 February 2013. The European Union filed an other appeal on 11 February 2013.

The measures at issue in this dispute are the FIT Programme implemented by the Government of Ontario and related FIT and microFIT Contracts.

As regards Canada's and the European Union's appeals concerning Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994, the Appellate Body upheld the Panel's finding that paragraph 1(a) of the Illustrative List in the Annex to the TRIMs Agreement did not obviate the need for the Panel to undertake an analysis of whether the challenged measures are outside of the scope of application of Article III:4 of the GATT 1994 by virtue of the operation of Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994.

The Appellate Body reversed the Panel's findings that the Minimum Required Domestic Content Levels of the FIT Programme and related FIT and microFIT Contracts are laws, regulations, or requirements governing the procurement by governmental agencies of electricity within the meaning of Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994. The Appellate Body also declared moot and of no legal effect the other intermediate findings made by the Panel. Moreover, the Appellate Body found that the Minimum Required Domestic Content Levels prescribed under the FIT Programme and FIT and microFIT Contracts do not meet the conditions of the derogation in Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994. It thus found that the challenged measures are not covered by Article III:8(a) of the GATT 1994 and that, consequently, the Panel's conclusion that the Minimum Required Domestic Content Levels prescribed under the FIT Programme and related FIT and microFIT Contracts are inconsistent with Article 2.1 of the TRIMS Agreement and Article III:4 of the GATT 1994, stands. In the light of its findings, the Appellate Body did not consider it necessary to address Canada's claim that the Panel failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 11 of the DSU in concluding that the Government of Ontario purchases electricity under the FIT Programme “with a view to commercial resale”.

As regards the European Union's appeal relating to Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement, the Appellate Body reversed the Panel's finding that the European Union failed to establish that the challenged measures confer a benefit within the meaning of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement, because the Panel erred in defining the relevant market and in its benefit analysis. In the light of these findings, the Appellate Body did not find it necessary to address the European Union's alternative claim that the Panel acted inconsistently with Article 11 of the DSU. Nevertheless, the Appellate Body was unable to complete the analysis as to whether the challenged measures confer a benefit within the meaning of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement and whether Canada acted inconsistently with Articles 3.1(b) and 3.2 of the SCM Agreement.

The Appellate Body recommended that the DSB request Canada to bring its measures found in the Appellate Body Report, and in Panel Report as modified by the Appellate Body Report, to be inconsistent with the TRIMs Agreement and the GATT 1994 into conformity with its obligations under those Agreements.

At its meeting on 24 May 2013, the DSB adopted the Appellate Body report and the panel report, as modified by the Appellate Body report.

 

Reasonable period of time

On 20 June 2013, Canada informed the DSB that it intended to implement the DSB's recommendations and rulings in a manner that respects its WTO obligations and that it will require a reasonable period of time to do so. On 29 July 2013, Canada and the European Union informed the DSB that they had agreed that the reasonable period of time to implement the DSB' recommendations and rulings shall be 10 months.  Accordingly, the reasonable period of time expired on 24 March 2014. On 24 March 2014, the European Union and Canada informed the DSB that they had mutually agreed to modify the reasonable period of time to expire on 5 June 2014.

On 5 June 2014, Canada informed the DSB that the Government of Ontario had complied with the DSB recommendations and rulings by (i) no longer subjecting large renewable electricity procurements to domestic requirements; and (ii) significantly lowering the domestic content requirements for small and microFIT procurement of wind and solar electricity under the FIT Program. At the DSB meeting on 18 June 2014, the European Union and Japan were surprised and concerned that Canada had not submitted a status report on this dispute and DS412, and would inscribe this item on the agenda of the next DSB meeting.

 

Implementation of adopted reports

On 24 March 2014, the European Union and Canada informed the DSB of Agreed Procedures under Articles 21 and 22 of the DSU.

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