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

Update 14 November 2019 See for the European legal context the CJEU earlier in this week in C-363/18 Organisation juive européenne holding that foodstuffs originating in a territory occupied by the State of Israel must bear not only the indication of that territory but also, where those foodstuffs come from a locality or a group of localities constituting an Israeli settlement within that territory, the indication of that provenance.

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.

 

Be careful what you ask for. A first review of the WTO EU seals Panel.

After leaks, the Panel’s ruling in EU Seals is finally out. As it was only released this afternoon, I have not as yet had time to read it thoroughly. However diagonal reading reveals that by and large the regime was found to qualify for the public morals exception under the GATT Agreement (and not to be more trade restrictive than necessary to protect same under the TBT Agreement) however the pro Inuit exceptions have proven to be the Regulation’s Achiless heel. As I have suggested in the past in other areas, this may well mean that the EU has no choice but to resort to stricter rules, leaving out the exceptions.

Further analysis and post later in the week hopefully.

Geert.

 

 

The TTIP and the EU’s regulatory standards: Do BITs require an environmental guarantee?

Consultancy Ecologic have released a report which they have prepared for the European Parliament. It reviews the impact which the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) might have on the environmental ‘acquis’ of the European Union (the collected body of EU environmental law). A wide range of issues are discussed – best have a look at the report for all the details. Included are the risks associated with standing for private companies under classic BITs, which as I reported earlier, the EC have recently defended.

The report downplays the impact which the TTIP might have on ECJ case-law [‘The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has consistently held that international trade and investment agreements only have direct effect within the EU in very limited circumstances. Thus, in past ECJ cases, private companies have not normally been able to rely on e.g. WTO law for invalidating an EU action or claiming damages from the EU. This is likely to apply to TTIP as well.’] That I believe is a touch incautious. The ECJ might qualify its case-law, in particular given that the extent of integration of a trade agreement, is part of the reason for the ECJ to reject direct effect. If the TTIP eventually will include the type of deep(ish) integration forecast, the Court might well find it to have direct effect in certain circumstances.

The report suggests the EP keep a close eye on the provisions in the agreement with an impact on environmental law. This includes the type of regulatory co-operation which the TTIP might yield: a focus on process or on outcome, as neatly summarised by Simon Lester. It makes me wonder whether the Agreement might do with an Article 193 TFEU-type ‘environmental guarantee’.

Geert.

EC, UK et al comments on Belgian nano-register delay its roll-out. No disguise of general unease vis-a-vis EC dithering.

The European Commission, the United Kingdom, The Czech Republic, Italy and Ireland have all issued detailed comments on the ‘nano register’ notified by Belgium.

Belgium itself had summarised the draft as follows:

The draft legislation implements a register of substances manufactured at the nanoscale based on declarations of products containing such substances by the parties placing these products on the market. 
To this end, the draft legislation mandates that substances manufactured at the nanoscale, and preparations containing them, be declared if more than 100 grams of these substances are placed on the market per year (the declaration covers the characteristics of the substances, the quantity of substances manufactured at the nanoscale placed on the market, the use of the preparation or substance concerned and the identity of professional purchasers and users). 
The draft legislation also lays down an obligation to make a simplified declaration for articles incorporating a substance or substances manufactured at the nanoscale, as long as more than 100 grams are placed on the market per year and the article emits more than 0.1% of substances manufactured at the nanoscale when in use (only a reduced list is required of the characteristics of the substances manufactured at the nanoscale). 
Provisions are laid down concerning data protection and confidentiality, as well as concerning research and development activities. 
The draft additionally covers the mutual recognition of the numbers of any declarations made by non-Member States, thus reducing the impact of the draft legislation on the free movement of the products concerned.

Under the notification procedure of Directive 98/34, Member States have to notify draft ‘technical regulations’ which may impede the Internal Market. This is followed by a standstill period and by an opportunity for other Member States, and the European Commission, to issue comments. Detailed comments extend the standstill period – in the case of Belgium’s nano register, now until early January 2014.

I am not in fact entirely convinced that the nano register is a ‘technical regulation’ under the Directive – Belgium would seem to have opted for the cautious approach, apparently in contrast with its approach vis-a-vis the mirror provisions under WTO law: the WTO has a similar regime under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (see also Agapi Patsa and Anna Gergely on same) – albeit with less strict consequences if a Member fails to notify. I was not able to locate Belgium’s notification in the TBT’s IMS  This database can be a bit moody, whence Belgium may have notified but I cannot find it. Alternatively, Belgium may have decided that the register does not qualify as a technical regulation under WTO law..

I have not been able (nor have I chased – perhaps some readers have) to get my hands on the comments issued by a handful of Member States and by the EC. . They are likely of course to relate to the impact on nano roll-out of a registration duty in a core Member State.

It is not unlikely that the Belgian initiative is meant in part to put pressure on the EC to beef up its own notification requirements. However the EC is dragging its feet on reporting on the public consultation re REACH and nano, and other Member States, notably Germany, which is pondering a separate notification proposal, are getting impatient, too.

Geert.

EU WTO action against Russian vehicle recycling fee

The first ever (ok, the second: however the polyethelyne case was settled before a report) WTO case concerned the environment (US Gasoline). The first ever EU action against Russia as a Member of the WTO also concerns the environment: the EU early July kick-started dispute settlement proceedings against Russia, protesting against the fee which Russia plans to introduce on the import of cars. The EU’s complaint has in the meantime been joined by Japan, with the US reported to be following suit.

The allegations are that the fee is discriminatory, not just vis-a-vis Russian production, but also among imports (Kazakhstan and Belarus are exempt); and that the alleged environmental aims are in reality disguised protectionism.

The complaint supplements the ever-growing list of trade and environment /public health cases at the WTO. These are exciting times for those of us keeping a keen eye on that area! (and trying to find time to write journal articles or even updated PhDs on same).

Geert.

The ‘compact’ – A new phase in international regulatory co-operation or a way around GSP+ accusations?

Update 25 October 2017. The PCIA has accepted to review the complaint brought under a related instrument, the Bangladesh Accord between trade unions and fashion chains.

In response to the tragedy at the Rana Plaza factory, the EU, Bangladesh and the International Labour Organisation together launched the ‘Global Sustainability Compact’ early July. The full title of the Initiative is the “Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh”. According to the official EU statement upon release of the initiative, key considerations are:

  • Reforming the Bangladesh Labour Law to strengthen workers’ rights, in particular regarding freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and to improve occupational health and safety. A new Labour Law should be in place by the end of 2013. The ILO will monitor the effective enforcement of the new legislation.
  • Recruiting 200 additional inspectors by the end of 2013, as part of the efforts to ensure regular visits to factories and assess them in terms of working conditions, including occupational safety and health, and compliance with labour laws.
  • Improving building and fire safety, especially structural safety of buildings and fire safety in ready-made garment factories, by June 2014. The ILO will help to coordinate efforts and mobilise technical resources.

The initiative is said to be ‘non-binding’, whence presumably the countries resorted to the name ‘Compact’ – a new entry I believe in the dictionary of international law (policy?) instruments [there is of course the UN Global Compact, however that does not have State involvement]. The use of co-operation and partnership is said to be the ‘carrot’ as an alternative to the ‘stick’: the latter would be to remove GSP and GSP+ treatment to Bangladeshi import into the EU. GSP and GSP+ require developing countries to sign up to, and implement, a number of international conventions in a variety of areas, so as to enjoy preferential access to the EU (the US and other countries employ similar instruments).  Its use is not uncontroversial.

I would have thought that withdrawal of GSP treatment by the EU would have been a little bit crass, given the role of companies (and consumers) here in seeking cheap garments, the price of which, frankly, just cannot be right.

As often, follow-up of this new partnership will be of the essence.

Geert.

Let them stop eating pollution – The European ban on beaching of EU ships

When teaching International Environmental Law, I tend to at some point in the proceedings have the students ponder Lawrence Summers’ 1992 ‘Let them eat pollution‘ memo. It is a document most wonderful to teach basic economics, internalisation (or lack thereof) of externalities, morality in international trade, comparative advantage etc etc. As well as some history (remember Marie Antoinette, anyone?) and the myths surrounding quotes (qu’ils mangent de la brioche).

The EU have recently decided no longer to let developing countries recycle EU-registered ships through ‘beaching’: basically, one towes a discarded ship, typically with plenty of toxic substances on board or integrated in the ship’s build, unto a beach in a developing country, where subsequently the ship is dismantled without much regard to environmental control of occupational health and safety issues.

The long struggle to regulate the trade is a good example of the challenges of positive harmonisation in international environmental law. For instance, the definition of ‘waste’ as applied to a disused ship long differed between the EU (waste as soon as it is no longer used for its original purpose), the International maritime organisation (no waste as long as it can float) and the Basel Convention (reference to ‘discard’ and to national law). The 2009 Hong Kong Convention aims to address the challenges. This Convention has now been implemented by the EU, who have reportedly ‘gold plated’ it: i.e. the EU have gone beyond what is required under the Convention.

Some details of the scheme may be found here (Irish Presidency of the EU) – the text itself is not yet available. The regime uses a core element of the regime of the Basel Convention on the transboundary shipments of hazardous wastes and their disposal: i.e. employ export authorities in the ‘developed’ world, to only allow exports to ‘developing’ countries when conditions in the latter are deemed sufficiently safe from the workers’ and the environment’s point of view. In the case of the ship recycling regime, this is done by only allowing export of EU-flagged waste ships if they are to be dismantled in facilities that have been approved by the EU.

Plenty of complications remain: this includes the compatibility of the regime with the Basel Convention, and with international trade law; the problem of enforcement and inspection; and the possibility of circumvention by switching flag state.

Geert. Postscript July 2014: the Regulation was eventually adopted as Regulation 1257/2013.

How ‘trade related’ is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights? The ECJ in Daiichi Sankyo v Demo

In  Daiichi Sankyo v Demo (most likely ‘Demo’ in shorthand), the Court of Justice held last Thursday, 18 July. One of the main issues was the extent of Article 207 TFEU on the EU’s common commercial policy, vis-a-vis the TRIPS Agreement. Article 207 grants the EU exclusive competence (and the European Commission a very strong hand) in ‘common commercial policy’.

By its first question, the referring Greek court asked essentially whether Article 27 of the TRIPs Agreement falls within a field for which the Member States have primary competence and, if so, whether the national courts may accord that provision direct effect subject to the conditions laid down by national law. The TRIPs Agreement was concluded by the Community and its Member States by virtue of shared competence. At the time, for the EU to be able to exercise exclusive jurisdiction pre Lisbon, under the in foro interno, in foro externo principle, it would have had to have exercised its powers in the field of patents, or, more precisely, of patentability: roll-out of its internal powers on patentability, would have als led to exclusive power externally. The European Commission however suggested that the mixed agreement discussion (and the exercise, or not, of its internal powers), was no longer relevant, given that the Lisbon Treaty has now given it exclusive competence in the entire common commercial policy, including for intellectual property rights. Under the old Article 113 EC Treaty (later updated to Article 133 – many of us still speak of the ‘Article 113 Committee, which surely dates us!), intellectual property rights did not feature in the common commercial policy.

The ECJ conceded that of the rules adopted by the European Union in the field of intellectual property, only those with a specific link to international trade are capable of falling within the concept of ‘commercial aspects of intellectual property’ in Article 207(1) TFEU and hence the field of the common commercial policy. However it emphatically [and contrary to the view of Cruz Villalon AG] held that such is indeed the case for the TRIPS Agreement: ‘Although those rules do not relate to the details, as regards customs or otherwise, of operations of international trade as such, they have a specific link with international trade. The TRIPs Agreement is an integral part of the WTO system and is one of the principal multilateral agreements on which that system is based.’ (para 53).

Member States cannot therefore grant direct effect to the provisions of TRIPS, in accordance with national law. It is up to the ECJ to hold on such direct effect – or not, and in the absence of such direct effect, to interpret the provisions of EU law in line with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement.

The judgment also reviews a number of substantial aspects of intellectual property law which I feel less entitled to comment on, I fear.

Geert.

Toxic policy-making? Rotterdam ‘bans’ the use of Roundup

It is being reported (this link in Dutch only however I suspect the international media will pick up on this soon) this morning that the city of Rotterdam has ‘banned’ the use of Roundup (Monsanto’s flagship herbicide). I was not able at this stage to get confirmation of what has actually been decided. My intuition however tells me what was had happened is not so much a ‘ban’ on the use of Round-up on Rotterdam territory. Rather, I imagine, a decision of the local council no longer to use Roundup in keeping pavements weed-free. A procurement or garden management decision, in other words.

The news caught my eye for I have an interest  in the legality of local (or other) bans on the use of products which have otherwise been approved by EU (such as in this case: EU approval of glyphosate) or national authorities. See e.g. here (but with a need to update with the Mickelsson judgment). A true ban on Roundup would certainly raise the prospect of WTO and EU litigation…

Geert.

Lessons learned from ACTA – European Commission transparency on TTIP

The European Commission (EC) has just published its position papers on a number of key aspects of the TTIP negotiations (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States). The move is unprecedented: one does not normally get an insight into the EC’s point of view on core aspects of a crucial international trade negotiation, this early in the proceedings. One must not be naive, of course. Red lines are not given away in the documents. Nevertheless, the EC would seem to have learnt its lessons from the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) debacle, in which (unfounded, in my view) accusations of backroom deals and intransparency  assisted the European Parliament in scuppering EU ratification of the Agreement.

The sectors covered in the current papers, are Cross-cutting & institutional provisions on regulatory issues; Technical barriers to trade; Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (i.e. barriers to trade in food and agricultural products); Public Procurement; Raw materials and energy; and Trade and sustainable development.

Geert.

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