Posts Tagged International trade

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.

 

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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.

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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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