Proponents of world trade rules are keen to show that a worldwide “level playing field” will benefit us all, and in particular will not reduce standards.
Critics have greeted the claims with scepticism, but recently another example has surfaced where the European Commission have cited the WTO as a reason to back down from a directive to ban the use of animals for cosmetics experiments.
The European institutions have been proposing to ban the use of animals in cosmetics testing, and, equally importantly, to ban the import of products and ingredients which have been tested on animals outside the EU. Allowing imports of such products would mean companies switching testing to outside the EU, probably to countries with cheaper labour, and lower standards governing such experiments.
The matter followed its stately pace between the European Parliament and the Commission, and was examined in formal Communications, Opinions, Reports, Motions, and Amendments in Brussel and Strasbourg.
At least this was the case until anxious Commissioners examined how the issue might comply with World Trade Organisation rules. The WTO has a panel of adjudicators who make judgements on trade disputes and the mere whiff of import bans makes their blood race. Before you can say “Give me a customs declaration” the WTO might be levying fines on other completely unconnected products from the guilty country.
Such fears have led the European Commission to back off the import ban. They say banning the import of cosmetic products or ingredients tested on animals outside the EU “would appear to raise certain difficulties in relation to the World Trade Organisation.”
Or to put it another way, because a company which conducts these inhumane tests outside Europe will lose business from lipstick manufacturers selling to EU consumers, I as a member of a parliament can’t vote to introduce a policy supported by many, if not most, of my constituents.
The Commission fears that a testing company could persuade its government to apply to the WTO claiming that such an import ban was against World Trade rules. The WTO might agree, and slap fines on some other completely unrelated goods coming from Europe. The thinking is that if the animal testing company loses money because of the ban, fines on the other products provide compensation. There’s no proof such a case might be brought, for the Commission it is enough that they fear such a case might be brought.
Those of us in the Green camp describe it as a world gone mad where it is more important to protect a company’s business than it is to protect people’s health, and the air, soil and water we rely on.
The Greens in the European Parliament are tabling amendments to this absurd situation, and we are doing so every time World Trade rules are cited as why we can’t raise standards of workers rights, the environment, or health. The protestors on the streets of Seattle could see the effect of this most undemocratic of institutions, and we as Greens are gaining increasing support for our contention that it is a profoundly dictatorial body.
The Greens in The European Parliament
Dr. Caroline Lucas MEP,
Suite 58 The Hop Exchange,
24 Southwark St., London SE1 1TY
Tel: 0207 407 6281 / Fax: 0207 234 0183
Caroline Lucas (London) 0207 407 6281
(Brussels) 0032 2284 5153
Peter Lang (Press officer) 01531 670 298