EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has announced the EU Commission’s withdrawal of a proposal on the marking of origin requirements for certain products imported from third countries. The Commissioner’s February 17 announcement provided two reasons for the withdrawal.
First, the Commission believes that the proposal is inconsistent with the EU’s WTO obligations following the Appellate Body’s decision in the U.S. Certain Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) dispute (WT/DS384). This is principally because the proposed regulation, which would apply its mandatory labelling requirement only to imported goods, arguably provides less favourable treatment to imported products than to domestically produced EU products. Second, the EU Council has been unable to agree on the desirability of such mandatory labelling. More free-trade-oriented Member States, such as the UK and the Scandinavian countries, oppose the proposal, whereas more protectionist Member States, such as France and the Mediterranean countries, favour the proposal.
The Commission’s decision means that it is unlikely the EU will have mandatory origin labelling in the near future. The EU today subjects only a small number of agricultural products (e.g., beef, veal, honey, olive oil and fruit) to harmonised compulsory origin labelling. Individual EU Member States can regulate the labelling of other products on a national level. This heterogeneous legal framework means that some Member States impose conditions on origin marking while others do not.