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.

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.

 

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.

Now Denmark joins the nano notification fray.

Denmark has adopted its regime for notification preparations and products containing nanomaterials. (Belgium ‘s regime as far as I am aware has still not been finally adopted – it is not the kind of measure which its care-taker government (coalition negotiations are underway) can justifiably adopt). The final text (Danish only) does differ from the text notified under the EU’s transparency regime, following comments by the EC and by other Member States.

The Danish text (which entered into force last Wednesday, 18 June) differs from the proposed Belgian regime: it targets consumer goods, not professional goods; it does not mutually recognise notification done in other Member States…The Belgian regime in turn differs from the French, and Norwegian (not an EU Member State but EFTA) scheme etc. Harmonisation at the European level is becoming ever more urgent: impact assessment at that level is underway and a proposal expected for the autumn. This will then presumably gazump any pre-existing national regimes.

Geert.

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.

 

Belgian nano-register inches forward

I reported earlier on the delay incurred by the Belgian nano register. Following objections under the EU’s transparency Directive, the Belgian register stood still. The Belgian Government is now tinkering with the proposal, having reportedly adopted a new draft which is being sent to various consultative bodies.

The new draft, a little bird tells me, adds additinal requirements in the light of occupation health and safety requirements; introduces 1 January 2016 as the deadline for registration of nanomaterials already on the market and 1 January 2017 for relevant mixtures; postpones until later the cut-off date for objects and complex preparations containing nanomaterials; and cancels the exemption for cosmetics containing nanomaterials.

Strangely, for a move designed to increase transparency, the new draft itself is kept under wraps for the time being.

Geert.

 

RERA: a weee chance of US Basel ratification?

Many thanks to Gideon Kracov for pointing this out to me: the proposed Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (a private member’s Bill) would install an EU-type regime on the export of electric and electronic waste outside of the US. The US have signed but not  ratified the Basel Convention : RERA would amount to implementation of the Convention in practice. The Bill also recognises the relevance of recovering the many rare earth materials contained in WEEE.

Here’s the blurb (the official summary of the Bill, in fact):

_______________

Introduced in House (07/23/2013)

Responsible Electronics Recycling Act – Amends the Solid Waste Disposal Act to: (1) prohibit the export of restricted electronic waste to countries that are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU), or Liechtenstein; (2) require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and promulgate procedures for identifying certain electronic equipment as well as additional restricted toxic materials contained in such equipment which poses a potential hazard to human health or the environment; and (3) establish criminal penalties for knowingly exporting restricted electronic waste in violation of this Act. Allows certain exceptions to such export ban.

Defines “restricted electronic waste” to include electronic equipment (excluding parts of a motor vehicle), such as computers, televisions, printers, copiers, video game systems, telephones, and similar used electronic products, that contain cathode ray tubes, batteries, switches, and other parts containing lead, cadmium, mercury, organic solvents, hexavalent chromium, beryllium, or other toxic ingredients.

Requires persons who handle restricted electronic wastes to permit appropriate EPA and state officials access to such wastes upon request.

Directs the Secretary of Energy to establish a competitive research application program to provide grants for research in the recovering and recycling of critical minerals and rare earth elements found in electronic devices.

______________-

 

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.

 

 

Is something fishy in the State of Denmark? Faroe Islands WTO and UNCLOS litigation provides a honey pot to trade and EU lawyers

POSTSCRIPT 11 June 2014: An understanding reached today (11 June) means the case will now not reach the WTO. Pitty in many ways.  See EC press release  and WTO database.

Yummie. That’s how Trade lawyers and EU lawyers receive news of the Danish request for consultations  with the EU, over at the WTO, on behalf of the Faroe Islands. A separate action is underway with UNCLOS (although the docket there shows no sign as yet of the case). Disagreement over herring stock lies at the root of the offending EU Regulation, with sanctions imposed by the EU disallowing Faroese fishermen to land mackerel or herring in EU harbours or export such fish to the EU.

The EU justify their action on stock conservation grounds, thus bringing GATT Article XX into play. Action at the WTO is exciting both because it joins a growing list of actions related to domestic regulatory authority, and because it is unheard of for one EU Member to take another to the WTO (Faroe’s specific status under EU law explains this, however even in EU law this terrain is quite uncharted).

As sources at the WTO say: ‘it’s a really interesting case’: that quote must be in the running for understatement of the year. Sources at the EU suggest no one had expected Denmark’s WTO filing to actually materialise.

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.