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Understanding the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and its implications for global trade

The introduction of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) by the European Union aims to catalyze global decarbonization efforts. This regulation, though EU-based, will have far-reaching consequences for international trade, affecting exporters worldwide.

Understanding the CBAM:

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The CBAM addresses the issue of “carbon leakage,” wherein businesses shift production to countries with less stringent emission constraints. By taxing imports to align the carbon price with EU standards, the CBAM aims to prevent this leakage.

Covered Sectors:

Initially, the CBAM targets six sectors, focusing on those with high carbon intensity and exposure to international trade. These include electricity, hydrogen, cement, fertilizers, aluminum and iron and steel. Future extensions are expected to broaden its scope.

Implementation Timeline:

The CBAM’s rollout spans several phases:

  • October 2023: Transitional period begins, with importers required to report on covered products.
  • January 2026: Financial obligations commence, with importers facing surrendering of CBAM certificates.
  • By 2030: Expected extension to all sectors covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).
  • By 2034: Full implementation, with all sectors under the CBAM fully operational.

Operational Mechanism:

The CBAM replaces the free allowances previously provided to EU industrial installations at risk of carbon leakage. Financial obligations are determined by the emissions embedded in imported goods and the price of CBAM certificates, linked to EU ETS prices.

Focus on Iron and Steel:

The iron and steel sector, due to its size, trade exposure, and emissions intensity, is a primary target for the CBAM. With significant competition from foreign suppliers and higher production costs, EU producers are set to benefit from a level playing field created by the mechanism.

Anticipated Impacts:

In the short term, exporters may adjust their production to comply with EU standards, while EU producers may face increased costs as free allowances phase out. However, in the long term, the CBAM could drive global decarbonization efforts and incentivize investment in emissions reduction technology.


The CBAM represents a significant step towards harmonizing global carbon pricing and fostering sustainable trade practices. While challenges and adjustments are expected, the ultimate goal of mitigating climate change through coordinated international efforts remains paramount.

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