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La régulation et l’harmonisation internationale des programmes d’écolabels sur les produits et les services

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  • Sophie Lavallée
  • Kristin Bartenstein
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    Abstract

    Considering both trade globalization and the growing media coverage of the deterioration of natural resources and the ozone layer, the average citizen has become more demanding as a consumer when it comes to the environmental quality of the products he purchases. In this context, the implementation of adequate labeling may become both a major competitive issue in the marketplace as well as a means of promoting sustainable development that will allow the inclusion of environmental considerations in production procedures and in individuals behavior and choices. Designed to inform both private and public consumers of a product’s environmental performance as compared to other products in the same category, the ecolabel is an excellent tool for the implementation of this new development paradigm. The ecolabel is a tool whose goal is to use markets in order to meet environmental goals. Presently, the ecolabel is the result of a “voluntary” step taken by manufacturer who takes it upon himself to declare that his products are ecological through the use of different seals or phrases (“nitrate free”, “ozone layer friendly”, “biodegrable”). Alternatively, the manufacturers may ask an independent organization for the right to use an ecolabel, by following a preset procedure and respecting pre-established criteria. Since the end of the 1980s, many countries have set up ecological certification and ecolabeling programs: the “European ecolabel”, the “Blue Angel” in Germany, the “Green Seal” in the United States, “NF” in France, “Eco-mark” in Japan, and the “Eco-logo” in Canada. For the last ten years, the ecolabel has drawn the interest of public authorities in Western countries. Over this same decade, Europeans have gained a level of expertise that today allows them to assume an international leadership role in the field of ecolabeling. In this context, several European jurists and economists have naturally become interested in the conditions linked to the development of this new tool for regulating production. Their studies show that the creation of a national policy of ecological labeling must be based on recognized standards – private or prescribed – so that the awarding of an ecolabel can be based on objective criteria. In the framework of trade liberalization, the development of the such ecolabel programs must be carried out while, ath the same time, an effort is made to avoid creating obstacles to international trade. Very little study has been devoted to the rules of international law that apply to this subject. This question is, however, central to the sustainable development tool. Our paper sets out to answer this question and to study the impact that the International Standards Organization’s (ISO) 14000 series of standards has had on the harmonization of national ecolabeling policies. Considering the impact of international law standards on the ecolabel’s development as a sustainable tool, it is logical to make an in-depth analysis of the conditions of national ecolabeling policy harmonization at the international level. Destiné à informer le consommateur, privé ou public, sur la performance d’un produit ou d’un service, l’écolabel peut conférer un avantage concurrentiel indéniable à l’entreprise qui cherche à rejoindre une clientèle intéressée par les impacts environnementaux des produits qu’elle consomme. De fait, l’écolabel suscite de plus en plus l’intérêt des grandes entreprises qui le voient progressivement comme un facteur essentiel à prendre en considération dans leurs stratégies industrielles et commerciales. Cet intérêt des entreprises pour la certification écologique volontaire de leurs produits et services revêt une portée encore plus grande dans un contexte de globalisation des marchés puisqu’elle est susceptible d’être « (…) à la fois un mode de protection très efficace des marchés intérieurs et un instrument de conquête de plus en plus incontournable des marchés extérieurs ». Outil commercial véhiculant une information environnementale afin de conférer un avantage concurrentiel aux produits nationaux, l’écolabel pourrait être taxé d’outil du « protectionnisme vert ». Cette possibilité n’a pas encore donné lieu à de réelles contestations mais elle est néanmoins assez sérieuse pour figurer à l’ordre du jour des prochaines études de la Commission du commerce et de l’environnement (CCE) de l’Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC). Cette commission a d’ailleurs exprimé l’opinion qu’il existe une panoplie de programmes de certifications alimentaires ou environnementales qui reposent sur différents critères et procédures qui sont susceptibles d’avoir des effets sur le commerce. Stigmatisé comme un nouvel obstacle technique au commerce international, l’écolabel pourrait être discrédité et son évolution compromise, malgré les possibilités qu’il représente pour la concrétisation des impératifs du développement durable. Cette éventualité nécessite que nous le soumettions à une analyse au regard des règles de droit du commerce international afin de déterminer s’il est ou non l’outil d’une politique protectionniste. Que la réponse à cette question soit ou non positive, nous verrons, en dernière analyse, que l’harmonisation des différents écolabels s’impose pour assurer l’essor de l’écolabellisation des produits et services. Afin de mener à bien cette réflexion, il convient de répondre aux trois questions suivantes : Qu’est-ce qu’un écolabel? L’écolabel est-il une barrière non tarifaire de protection des marchés intérieurs? Quelles sont les possibilités d’harmonisation internationale des différents écolabels ?

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by CIRANO in its series CIRANO Working Papers with number 2004s-40.

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    Date of creation: 01 Aug 2004
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    Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2004s-40

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    Keywords: ecolabel; environmental labeling; regulation; protectionism; World Trade Organization (WTO); WTO accords; harmonization; International Standards Organization's (ISO) 14000 series; écolabels; étiquetage écologique; régulation; protectionnisme; Organisation Mondiale du Commerce (OMC); harmonisation; série de normes ISO 14020 et 14040;

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    Cited by:
    1. Stéphane BECUWE (GREThA UMR CNRS 5113) & Radhouane HASNI (GREThA UMR CNRS 5113), 2010. "Green protectionism: the case of textile-clothing sector (In French)," Cahiers du GREThA 2010-10, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.

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