Challenges to Eco-Labeling Arise in World Trade Talks
LONDON, UK, October 21, 2005 (ENS) - Consumers may lose the chance to make environmentally informed choices, if plans to ban energy efficiency and recycling labels succeed during World Trade Organization talks, warns Friends of the Earth UK.
Countries including Korea, the United States and China are claiming that eco-labeling damages their competitiveness and acts as a barrier to trade.
Other basic measures countries want revoked include:
The EU energy label rates products from A (up to A++ for refrigeration) - the most efficient/least energy used, down to G (the least efficient/most energy used). Currently, by law, the label must be shown on all refrigeration and laundry appliances, dishwashers, electric ovens and light bulb packaging.
The measures being challenged, including the objection to energy efficiency labeling by Korea, are known as non-tariff barriers and fall under the Non-Agricultural Market Access negotiations at the WTO.
Yet as of June 2005, the United States and the European Union were still moving towards harmonizing energy efficiency labels on appliances.
"This program currently covers computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, copiers, scanners, and multi-function devices. Both parties are currently considering the conditions for renewing the Energy Star Agreement."
Energy Star is a voluntary labeling program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that identifies energy efficient products that may display the Energy Star label.
"This year, and into next, the Roadmap says, "the U.S. and the EC will cooperate on revising the specifications for imaging equipment (printers, copiers, scanners, fax machines, mailing machines, and multifunction devices) and computers. The intention of these revisions is to make the specifications more stringent, such that ENERGY STAR qualified models represent the top performers in the market without a sacrifice in features or performance."
Though many in developing countries see eco-labeling as a non-technical barrier to trade because it is often linked to environmental agreements, it can actually help promote trade because labeling can offer a means of marketing a particular competitive advantage said Jorge Larson Guerra, a biologist with the National University of Mexico.
There has been a rise of mandatory basic labeling in India, Brazil, Mexico and Central Europe, and there has been expansion in the use of geographical indicators in eco-labeling. Law enforcement of mandatory eco-labeling should be a priority in developing countries to ensure that claims made by labels are legitimate and credible, proponents say.
Japanese business has acknowledged that eco-labeling is an effective means of promoting environmental conservation, and has pledged its efforts for the disclosure of information to consumers and to a labeling scheme that gains the trust of consumers.
On the other hand, the Japanese business community has raised concerns about labeling based on criteria that favor domestic industry, and that are discriminatory and lack transparency. There is concern about forced compliance with government-imposed regulations calling for eco-labeling as a requirement of green purchasing conducted by government, and government engagement in discriminatory practices of mutual certification of standard eco-labeling.
The sixth WTO Ministerial meeting will take place in Hong Kong, China from December 13 to 18, 2005. UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson and Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett are expected to attend.
For more on eco-labels visit the Global Ecolabelling Network, a nonprofit asssociation, founded in 1994 to improve and develop the ecolabeling of products and services worldwide, online at: http://www.gen.gr.jp/members.html