Archive for category WTO

Request for consultations under the Trade and Sustainable Devlopment chapter of the EU-Korea FTA.

Update 5 July 2019 Ditto for the Korea issue. Update 21 June 2019 the EU /Ukraine issue, below, has now led to a formal request for establishment of panel.

Update 10 April 2019 see USTR for their report on having successfully resolved a timber management issue under the US /Peru FTA.

Update 19 March 2019 see Quentin Decleve here for the US following suit, related to rule of law /due process/ hearing rights issues before the Korean competition authority.

Update 16 January 2019 the first such trigger was quickly followed by a second: the EU have requested consultations with Ukraine over the country’s ban on the export of unprocessed woods.

This is a short posting for completeness and filing purposes. The EU have requested consultations with South Korea under the Trade and Sustainable Development chapter of the EU-Korea FTA. Labour rights are at the heart of the request. The request is a first trigger of the ‘Trade and’ consultations chapters under recent EU FTAs. I am not in a position to say more at this stage.

Geert.

 

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WTO examiners: at ease! Canadian Supreme Court holds in R. v. Comeau (New Brunswick restrictions on alcohol trade).

Fellow faculty about to examine students on the Law of the World Trade Organisation, have their exam sorted (especially if it is an oral exam). In 2018 SCC 15 R v Comeau the Canadian Supreme Court held last week. At issue is New Brunswick’s restrictive regime on the import and sale of alcoholic beverages. Greg Tereposky and Daniel Hohnstein have background to the case.

Despite the Province’s regime having clear trade impact, the SC held that it was not illegal under Canada’s internal free trade rules – with occasional reference to GATT and WTO. For comparative and exam purposes, the interesting angle is clear: has the Supreme Court adopted the kind of aims and effects test which the WTO is no fan of?

Copy of the judgment. 15 mins prep. And Bob’s your (oral exam) uncle.

Geert.

(Handbook of) The law of the World Trade Organisation, forthcoming at OUP with Demeester, Coppens, Wouters and Van Calster.

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Trading Together For Strong and Democratically Legitimized EU International Agreements

I am happy to post here the link to the statement which I signed together with 62 colleagues from various walks of (trade) life, on the EU’s modus operandi for the signature of trade agreements.  Post-CETA, we strongly believe that current procedures, when properly implemented, ensure democratic legitimacy for the EU’s international agreements at multiple levels. The statement is available in English, French and German: EU noblesse oblige.

Geert.

 

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Is it me, or is it getting chilly? The EC and endocrine disruptors.

Do the newly negotiated EU rules on endocrine disruptors illustrate regulatory chill /the ‘freezing effect’ of international trade law?

The new European Commission proposals on endoctrine disruptors are, of course’ ‘science based’. It has been reported (EurActiv, 12 December 2016 and last consulted by me on 13 December) that publication of the proposals was followed by a closed door meeting (minutes of which were released only after a freedom of information request) between the EC and a select number of countries (US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay on 13 July this year). Discussion centered around the potential WTO incompatibility of parts of the EC proposal, particularly those surrounding the tolerance levels for endocrine disruptors present in imported substances (food and feed in particularly). The EC reportedly are prepared to replace “negligible exposure” with “negligible risk from exposure”. The EC defend the latter, arguing it might even ban more, rather than less imported substances: for even if there is only negligible exposure, that exposure may still be a risk. Opponents suggest that the insertion of a risk approach has sacrified precaution on the altar of science.

A few comments.

Firstly, the report (and potentially even the EC itself) repeats the misleading assertion that the debate concerns either science or precaution. Precaution is NOT unscientific. The very trigger of the precautionary approach is science.

Next, the case is reported at a time a lot of people are getting jittery about the regulatory co-operation mechanisms in free trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP. The meeting and the subsequent EC reaction to our trading partners’ comments, would then represent an example of the ‘freezing effect’ in international trade: with our trading partners flying the flag of WTO incompatibility, the EU would then have caved in to threats of litigation in Geneva. Yet in reality WTO input by fellow WTO Members is at least as old as the WTO itself, indeed it predates it. The 1978 Tokyo Standards Code already obliged the then GATT Contracting Parties to notify their draft standards to the GATT Secretariat. The very point of notification and transparency is that the issues raised are being discussed and may indeed lead to the draft standard being adopted. Changes made to REACH, to name but one example, reflected concerns of fellow WTO Members and REACH can hardly be said to pander to industry’s demands.

However there needs to be one core appreciation in this process: just as notification serves transparency (anyone can consult the TBT notification gateway to review draft measures that have been notified), so too should the process of review after reception of the comments, be conducted in a transparent manner. This clearly has not happened here. By conducting these meetings in private, and by refusing to release the minutes until prompted to do so, EC services have given the impression that there is more than meets the eye. In times where even CETA has not yet been ratified, that is most definitely the wrong approach.

Geert.

 

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Essent 2.0. The CJEU surprisingly does distinguish. Support for renewable, ‘green’ energy not entirely carte blanche.

Excuse the attempt at pun in the title (which readers may have even missed. ‘Green’ v carte ‘Blanche’. It’s Thursday, and these are busy weeks). Apologies also to the readers who are new to the debate. The legality of support schemes for renewable energy  EU law has occupied mine and others’ mind for a little while now. One may want to refer eg to my paper on the Vindkraft et al judgment or to various postings on this blog. Specifically, for the latter, my post on the AG’s Opinion in Essent 2.0, case C-492/14., judgment issued today.

Bot AG had opined, very very reluctantly, that the Court’s case-law meant that Flanders could indeed reserve the benefit of the free distribution of electricity produced from renewable energy sources solely to generating installations directly connected to the distribution systems located in Flanders, thereby excluding generating installations located in other Member States.

The Court itself has now distinguished its own case-law: the EU has not harmonised the national support schemes for green electricity; this means that it is possible in principle for Member States to limit access to such schemes to green electricity production located in their territory. However the Court’s sympathy is now limited to schemes that support producers only. Green energy support schemes, whose production costs seem to be still quite high as compared with the costs of electricity produced from non-renewable energy sources, are inherently designed in particular to foster, from a long-term perspective, investment in new installations, by giving producers certain guarantees about the future marketing of their green electricity (at 110, with reference to Vindkraft).

However it is not the purpose of the Flemish scheme to give direct support to producers of green electricity. Rather, the free distribution of green electricity constitutes a financial advantage conferred primarily on the supplier of such electricity, which may, in certain circumstances, depending notably on the sale price which the consumer is charged by the supplier for his electricity, to a certain extent and indirectly also benefit the consumer (at 112).

Such a support mechanism offers no certainty that the economic advantage thus obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, particularly the smallest local generating installations which the Flemish Region claims to have wanted to support, which are not both producers and suppliers (at 113).

The Court is not game to assist the AG with his call for an explicit recognition of the potential to use discriminatory measures within the context of mandatory requirements (the implications of Cassis de Dijon). That is a pity, but not a surprise.

Overall, the Court’s judgment is a welcome safeguard to its more open-ended sympathy for renewable energy support schemes. Those who challenge such schemes in future, know what to do. They need to show that there is no certainty that the economic advantage obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, as opposed to distributors or consumers.

Next-up: a reversal of T-351/02 Deutsche Bahn?

Geert.

 

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Neither extraterritoriality questions nor WTO concerns unsettle the CJEU. Animal testing ban applies outside EU.

The last part of this title is a bit of a stretch, apologies: soundbite beats nuance. I reported earlier on the High Court’s referral to the CJEU in the Cosmetics Regulation case, C-592/14 . The Court held last week, 21 September. Much like in C-366/10, the emissions trading /aviation case, the Court was unimpressed with accusations of extraterritoriality (‘territory’ is not discussed in the judgment) and does not even flag WTO concerns (Bobek AG had, and simply suggested this is an issue that solely lies with the WTO itself to resolve).

Referring to the need to interpret the Regulation with a view to its object and purpose, the Court insists that in particular to avoid easy circumvention of the Regulation, data obtained from animal testing carried out outside the EU, cannot be employed for the marketing of cosmetics in the EU, even if those tests had to be performed so as to meet the regulatory requirements of third countries.

Of course in WTO jargon, this recalls the discussion of non-product incorporated production processes and -methods (n-PR PPMs) however the Court is more concerned with regulatory efficiency.

Geert.

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Belgium’s origin labelling of products from Israeli – occupied territories. A lot of beating round the bush.

The Belgian Government has published its ‘notice to retailers concerning origin labelling of products from Israeli occupied territories’. The initiative got a lot of press, in Belgium at least, the past few days. It was announced as the culmination of lengthy preparation in light of the existing difficulties in particular with the EU-Israel and EU-Palestine association agreements. Good summary of those difficulties is provided here by DEFRA. (Compiled in 2009 but the issues have remained more or less the same. Note that the Belgian notice refers as far as the exiting origin obligations are concerned, essentially revisits the DEFRA compilation).

Generally, initiatives like these are problematic at three levels.

Firstly, purely legally, specifically international trade law. Countries introducing these types of regimes (including the UK, Denmark, and now also Belgium) allege that all that is envisaged is consumer information, without any signal or pressure from government to boycott said products. That is cosmetic at best. One cannot seriously argue that given the current context, the ‘informative notice’ is not related to a political signal by the Belgian Government. Any consequences of the notice therefore in my view without doubt are sponsored by the Government and hence fall under WTO discipline. (Note that Palestine is not a WTO Member but Israel is). That same context feeds the argument that the introduction of a label of origin for the occupied Palestine territories serves to make all Israeli produce suspicious in the eyes of the Belgian consumer. That is a highly relevant angle for international trade law.
Secondly, the practical angle. A label of origin requirement is not new. The very existence of different agreements between Palestine, Israel and the EU requires it. Yet controlling those labels has proved impossible so far. Suggestions of lengthy preparation made me curious about the regime the Belgian Government would have devised. The answer is simply that is has devised none. The notice simply says

In order to clarify that these products originate from an Israeli settlement, the following labels are recommended: – ‘Product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)’ – ‘Product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)’. For products from the West Bank that do not originate from settlements, the label ‘product from the West Bank (Palestinian product)’ is recommended.

There are no indications of who is supposed to attach the labels (‘the retail industry’), who will inspect them, what rules of origin percentages apply. etc.

I am not an economist and hence not in a position to advice whether boycotts such as these actually reach those against whom they are intended. (Which is the third level of problems). Neither am I a public international lawyer who sees clear in the myriad of territorial and other claims which sadly dog Israel-Palestine relations. I am however a litigator and in that capacity I have always preferred doing things with blazing guns once it comes down to boycotts, consumer driven or not: state your case and do not beat around the bush. This notice is disappointing in view of the noise created around it in recent days and it pussyfoots around the real Government intention.

Geert.

 

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