Believe it or not, there are no EU-wide rules as to marking the origin of products imported into the Union. Now, a proposed EU regulation seeks to bring the EU into line with similar laws already long since in force in Canada, China, Japan and the USA.
Who: The European Commission
When: December 2005
After a two year consultation period, the European Commission has published a proposal for a new Council Regulation on "the indication of the country of origin of certain products imported from third countries".
Unlike a Directive, once it is signed off an EU Regulation has direct legal effect across the entire European Union without the need for each member state to introduce local, implementing legislation. So this is an important development.
The initiative started life in December 2003, following renewed interest in the subject by some member states and some sectors. There was growing concern over mounting incidence of misleading and/or fraudulent origin marks being carried by imported products.
It was also noted that the EC's main trading partners, such as Canada, China, Japan and the USA, already imposed origin marking laws on imported goods. Those in the European Union exporting to those parts of the world already had to comply with those requirements and have to mark their products accordingly. This proposed Regulation would put the EC on a level footing with those trade partners by putting in place equivalent legislation.
If adopted, the Regulation will not apply to products imported into the European Union which originate from Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey or the non-EU members of the EEA, namely Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Goods may also be exempted from origin marking if, for technical or commercial reasons, it appears impossible to mark them.
Labelling, not advertising
For affected imports, the origin indication will not have to appear in advertising, but on the products themselves: the origin must appear "in clearly legible and indelible characters" and must "be visible during normal handling, markedly distinct from other information and be presented in a way which is not misleading nor likely to create any erroneous impression with regard to the origin of the product".
Relevant imported goods will be non-complaint if they do not bear an origin marking, if the origin marking does not correspond to the origin of the goods or if the origin marking has been changed or removed or has otherwise been tampered with, except where correction is required in order to comply with the Regulation.
The current plan is for the Regulation to itemise the categories of goods to which it will apply. So far, the principal categories are travel goods, handbags and similar containers, articles of apparel, textiles, footwear, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, furniture and of course brooms and brushes.
The proposed plan is for the Regulation to enter into force on the 20th day following that of its publication in the Official Journal, but for the meat of the Regulation to only have effect 12 months afterwards.
Why this matters:
It is perhaps surprising that the European Union has lagged so far behind so many of its main trading partners in this area. This proposal appears to have a good head of steam behind it and looks set to be signed off reasonably soon. If so, EU importers of products in the relevant categories will have to be take suitable steps to ensure compliance by a date to be specified in 2007.