EU national governments are signaling a readiness to consider the issue.
"We're open to discussing the issue, but we see a lot of challenges related to any of such proposals," said Karsten Sach, director general at the German Environment Ministry. "There are likely other options which are probably more effective and more in line with what a rules-based international trade system would look like."
Such attitudes may well lead the EU down a path involving a less intrusive stick: setting minimum environmental standards for goods both made in the bloc and imported by it. Europe has deployed this approach in the area of renewable energy, setting sustainability criteria for biofuels including those made from palm oil in countries such as Indonesia in a bid to curb deforestation.
While subtler, this European method has plenty of political and economic effect. The Indonesian government has threatened to retaliate against the EU over its stricter limits on the use of palm oil in biofuels.
"Europe as the economic superpower needs to investigate and analyze all options," said Norbert Kurilla, state secretary at the Slovak Environment Ministry.
(Mathew Carr contributed to this report.)
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