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French plan for a global warming tariff gets a cool reception from world leaders

As with many nations that signed the Kyoto climate change treaty, France has had a hard time keeping pace with the protocol's stringent obligations to reduce carbon emissions. But instead of taking the log out of its own eye, the French government is looking for specks in the eyes of others-especially Uncle Sam.

French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin has been lobbying the European Union to impose a special tariff on goods made in countries that do not join the Kyoto process after 2012. Countries that reject Kyoto, he said, would have an unfair competitive advantage and could engage in "environmental dumping" against countries that follow Kyoto. "We have decided," de Villepin declared, "to reinforce the principle that the polluter pays."

But at least so far, any list of "polluters" would have to include Europe. For several years after signing the Kyoto treaty, most of Europe, including France, did nothing to reach the stated goal of cutting carbon emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. A 2003 European Commission (EC) report found that, among the "EU-15," only the United Kingdom and Sweden were on track to meet the target, and most of the other 13 countries had increased carbon emissions.

An EC report last year found progress-the EU-15 altogether had cut emissions to 0.9 percent below 1990 levels-but also found that existing measures would leave the EU at only 0.6 percent below 1990 levels in 2010. The EU-15 has made plans to reach the full goal, including reforestation activities to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but those measures have yet to be implemented.

That's one reason many world leaders are cold to Villepin's tariff plan. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called the idea "a thoroughly silly proposal" that is "utterly out of touch with reality," and the proposal has met some resistance within the EU as well. "Not participating in the Kyoto process is not illegal," EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson pointed out last month. "Nor is it a subsidy under WTO rules." He suggests instead working to lower tariffs worldwide on energy-saving equipment.

France is expected to propose its "green" tariff formally in March.

Balance Sheet

HOUSING: The average price for an apartment in Manhattan was $1.225 million in the fourth quarter of 2006-and that was after a drop from $1.289 million in the third quarter, according to a report from the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. The report pegged the average price per square foot at $998-5 percent below the third-quarter price.

LABOR: Private-sector employers in the United States cut 40,000 jobs in December, the first monthly employment contraction in over three years. Economists had expected the ADP National Employment Report to show a healthy increase after a jump of 158,000 jobs in November. "ADP is not perfect and is sometimes horribly wrong," economist Ian Shepherdson told the Reuters news service, "but it is the best of a bad bunch of payroll indicators and cannot be completely ignored."

MANUFACTURING: Jobs may have been down, but the Institute for Supply Management reported last week that factory activity was up in December. The group's index grew to 51.4 from 49.5 in November. The index registers anything above 50 as growth. Analysts had forecast a reading below 50.