Posts Tagged Trade

Seatrade: Ships as waste.

Rechtbank Rotterdam held on 15 March last that 4 ships owned and operated by the Sea Trade concern had to be regarded as waste when they left the port at Rotterdam cq Hamburg (they were eventually beached in a variety of destinations). Not having been notified as waste, their shipment was considered illegal and the concern as well as some of its employees consequently convicted. (Illegal waste shipments being a criminal offense).

The court decided not to refer to the CJEU on the application of the waste definition to ships, as it considered the issue to be acte clair. The court’s review of the legal framework is included in Heading 4.3.4. As such, the analysis does not teach us much about the difficulty of applying the waste definition to international maritime logistics, in particular ship disposal. The court found at a factual level that the owners’ intention to dispose of the ships was clearly established when the ships left the EU, with, it suggested, the facts proving that the intention to dispose was at that moment of such an intensity as to trigger the waste definition.

The court does flag its appreciation for the difficulties. Not only is eventual disposal of hardware such as ships a possibility from the moment of their purchase. Such intention may also be withdrawn, reinstated, modified, at various moments of the ships’ life, fluctuating with market circumstances. Particularly given the criminal nature of the legal discipline here, I find that a very important driver to tread very cautiously and to look for firmer objective factors to establish intent.

Most probably to be continued on appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2017, para 1.20 ff. Disclosure: I acted as court expert.

 

 

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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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Cheers to that! The CJEU on excise duties, alcohol, packaging and regulatory autonomy in Valev Visnapuu.

Postscript 10 December 2015 For a similar exercise, see Sharpston AG in C-472/14 Canadian Oil.

Less is sometimes more so I shall not attempt to summarise all issues in Case C-198/14 Valev Visnapuu. The case makes for sometimes condensed reading however it perfectly illustrates the way to go about dealing with obstacles to trade put in place for environmental, public health or, as in this case, both reasons.

Mr Visnapuu essentially forum shops Estonia’s lower prices on alcohol by offering Finnish clients home delivery of alcoholic beverages purchased there. No declaration of import is made to Finish customs and excise, thereby circumventing (accusation of course is that this is illegal) a variety of excise duties imposed for public health and environmental reasons, as well as a number of requirements relating to retail licenses and container requirements (essentially a deposit-return system) for beverages.

Confronted with a demand to settle various tax debts, as well as with a suspended prison sentence, Mr Visnapuu turns to EU law as his defence in a criminal proceeding. The CJEU then had to settle a variety of classic trade and environment /public health questions: whether the packaging and packaging waste Directive is exhaustive on the issue of deposit-return system (answer: no and hence the system additionally needs to be assessed vis-a-vis EU primary law: Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU); whether in the context of that Directive excise duties on packaging may be imposed (yes) and packaging integrated into a functioning return system exempt (yes; in the absence of indications that imported systems are less likely to enjoy the exemption); whether the relevant excise duties fall under Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU (answer: it is part of an internal system of taxation hence needs to be judged vis-a-vis Article 110 TFEU); and finally whether the retail licence requirement needs to be judged viz Article 34 or Article 37 TFEU (answer: mixed, given the various requirements at stake). Final judgment on proportionality is down to the Finnish courts.

Readers in need of a tipple would be advised to postpone until after reading the judgment. Again though the case shows that if one keeps a clear head, classic structures of applying EU law go a long way in untangling even complex matters of law and fact.

Geert.

 

 

 

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Not on my soil! The Council of the EU compromise on national vetoes to GMO cultivation.

The Council has published its first-reading position on a draft directive granting member states more flexibility to decide whether or not they wish to cultivate genetically modified organisms(GMOs) on their territory – I had flagged it here before I had an opportunity chance to look at the text. My initial reaction is confirmed however.

Under the text, the possibility would be provided for a Member State to request the Commission to present to the notifier/applicant its demand to adjust the geographical scope of its notification/application to the effect that all or part of the territory of that Member State be excluded from cultivation. The Commission shall facilitate the procedure by presenting the request of the Member State to the notifier/applicant without delay and the notifier/applicant should respond to that request within an established time-limit. In the event of refusal, the Member State may block cultivation on its territory for reasons other than the scientific assessment which will have been carried out by the relevant authorities. (And note that the EC may after refusal also proceed to adjusting geographically the request for authorisation for scientific reasons).

The list of ‘compelling reasons’ which may lead a Member State to refuse cultivation, is non-exhaustively listed as

(a) environmental policy objectives distinct from the elements assessed according to the Directive and to Regulation 1829/2003;  (since those environmental objectives will have been considered in the scientific assessment);

(b) town and country planning;

(c) land use;

(d) socio-economic impacts;

(e) cross-contamination with other products;

(f) agricultural policy objectives; and

(g) public policy.

Those grounds may be invoked individually or in combination, with the exception of the public policy exception (which awkwardly needs to be coupled with one of the other grounds). An authorisation procedure will apply (with no need to apply the transparency Directive, 98/34, concurrently).

An important point to note is that the Directive only applies to growing (‘cultivation’) of GMOs in situ: not to the import, marketing etc. of GMO containing products, food, feed etc. I would not be surprised that in practice this will mean a continuation of industry practice to leave the EU altogether for growing GMOs, focusing its efforts instead on securing authorisation to market. (This regime does not feature the much wider leeway for non-science driven objections).

Today is the Saint’s Day of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. A suitable day to ponder a proposal heavy with risk analysis, regulatory theory,  and trade law implications.

Geert.

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The EU’s ‘Bio economy’. Utopian?, realistic?, protectionist? Or all of these?

I have just recently stumbled across the EU’s Bioeconomy strategy, classified in the administrative organogram at least under ‘Research and innovation’. It could also be DG Industry. Or DG Trade. Or DG  Env. Or indeed DG Agri. Tucking it away under Research and innovation was a good idea, I believe: best to keep it safely away from daily policy concerns and ditto lobbying. The Bioeconomy – which is defined as encompassing the sustainable production of renewable resources from land, fisheries and aquaculture environments and their conversion into food, feed, fiber bio-based products and bio-energy as well as the related public goods – is seen by the EC as a successor to the EU’s Biosociety program, which however was more scientific in outlook (lots of talk of new technologies).

A big gap in its approach, to me at least, is its lack of discussion on reduced consumption and ‘need‘ (the Club of Rome has some powerful insight into this) which is a pitty. It talks mostly about increasing and diversifying ‘output’, rather than on reducing it or matching it to true need. For in its current outlook, the Bioeconomy feels more like a postersite for EU ‘innovative’ technologies than one for foresight in development priorities. And no, that is not properly done elsewhere in the EC.

Geert.

 

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Beggars can’t be choosers: has the EU’s GMO compromise outsourced moral reservation?

The compromise (official minutes of the Meeting concerned reveal very little detail; more is available here) between the EU Member States on the market authorisation for GMOs has been condemned by opponents and proponents of the technology alike. Market authorisation for GMOs has a long and troublesome history in the EU, with most recently the spat over Pioneer 1507.

I would love to get my hands on any kind of legal formulation for the apparent deal which as been struck. As is common knowledge, some Member States object categorically to GMOs on a mix of scientific (precautionary), moral, sustainability grounds. The EU have for some time been trying to find a way to accommodate moral objections in particular. (Where there are serious indications of scientific uncertainty vis-a-vis a particular application, these are picked up by EFSA and authorisation will be refused for the EU as a whole: this is not problematic per se – lest of course per the US arguments at the WTO in EC Biotech, one does not accept that there is scientific uncertainty). The suggested way out is now, apparently, for the Member States concerned to request the applicant companies, via the European Commission, to exclude their territory from the application.

This raises all sorts of questions. (Including exam questions). It near-effectively outsources regulatory autonomy to the applicant companies. The suggested regime reminds me of the Voluntary Export Restraints which were popular(ish) in the 1980s – and highly controversial under GATT. Under the WTO, they are all but blacklisted. Especially after SEAL pups I believe it would be much better for the EU regime itself to allow opt-out, even of individual Member States, on moral or ethical grounds (again, the scientific debate is different) and to take any WTO fight into open field.

Should anyone out there have the actual text which is being tabled (in the UK English sense of the word) – and the liberty to share it, I would love to hear from you. (Postscript 31 July 2014: see later post with link to text).

Geert.

 

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Exam questions, anyone? Plain packaging regulations and domestic regulatory autonomy

Postscript January 2016 Reportedly the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCITRAL rules, has declined jurisdiction. The award is to be made public here once it has been cleared of confidential data.

Postscript June 2015: I have many other posts on the issue however I thought I”d here that in June 2015, Ukraine suspended its complaint against Australia. Simon Lester collates why. And end of May 2015, Norway Norway TBT plain packaing notification its plain packaging plans to the WTO TBT Committee, with extensive pre-emption of legal arguments against it.

Postscript 22 10 2013:  on the BIT front, see the interesting defence by the European Commission of BITs in October 2013 here. Reference is made ia to the ongoing Philip Morris and Vatenfall (Nuclear energy) issues.

Faculty everywhere have been handed a treasure trove of exam questions, courtesy of ‘plain packaging’ (students please look away now).  A variety of States are in the process of introducing ‘plain packaging’ requirements on tobacco products. Although they of course vary in detail, they generally require tobacco manufacturers to strip packaging of all tailored corporate content, resorting instead to prescribed generic packaging. The ‘plain’ packaging required is generally limited to brand name in standardised fashion (font size and lettering, colour…), joined by a number of health warnings (including, sometimes, images), excise duties requirements and ingredients listings.

Plain packaging ticks all the boxes of a classic ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ dispute. It pitches the freedom of a sovereign State to pursue ‘regulatory’ interests (environment, public health, consumer protection, stability of the economy etc.) against the free trade commitments which the same State has voluntarily committed to. These trade commitments take the form of multilateral (such as the WTO, the EU’s Internal Market, or NAFTA) or bilateral (such as bilateral free trade agreements and customs unions) agreements. They most often do not, but sometimes do include procedural rights for private parties (as opposed to simply the States which have concluded the agreement) to launch legal proceedings should free trade (arguably) have been infringed. Such standing for private parties is the case in many BITs, i.e. Bilateral Investment Treaties, as well as for instance (subject to a number of whistles and bells), NAFTA.

Free trade agreements are not generally oblivious to the continuing desire of participating States to regulate the interests referred to above. Consequently they include room for ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ to continue after the conclusion of the agreement, subject of course to checks and balances.

This fragile balance between free trade and regulatory autonomy is exactly what the current debate on plain packaging is all about. The issue is being fought on many fronts: At the World Trade Organisation, Ukraine have filed a complaint in March 2012 against Australia’s plain packaging laws on the basis of the TRIPS (intellectual property) and TBT (technical barriers to trade; product regulations) Agreements. Ukraine’s complaint is supported by a number of WTO Members with tobacco manufacturing interests.

Australia’s position is eagerly anticipated by other jurisdictions thinking of doing something similar.See e.g. here and here.

At a constitutional level, issues include free (commercial) speech (see here for the related issue of graphic warnings), expropriation (of the trademark), non-discrimination (why no plain packaging on alcohol, for instance).

At a level of BITs, the issue has rejuvinated the ‘regulatory takings’ debate (do new regulatory requriements of host States amount to a ‘regulatory taking’ (as compared to a straightforward expropriation) that may be incompatible with investment protection requirements. The Uruguay-Switserland (see here and enter search term ‘ICSID Case No. ARB/10/7’) and Australia-Hong Kong BITs are among those affected. One imagines that the necessity of the measure will be hotly contested, as the actual health impact of the measure is not entirely certain. See the (controversial) ruling of the European Free Trade Association’s Court on the related issue of display bans here and the excellent analysis of prof Alemanno.

One will have gathered: all of this is excellent material for those of us teaching Trade and regulatory law. Geert.

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