Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Plan to Scrap Eco-Labels Stopped

Sierra Club trade activists this summer blocked an industry-backed campaign to give the World Trade Organization the power to eliminate or greatly restrict "eco-labeling." After environmentalists raised an outcry, the Clinton administration decided to hold off on the industry proposal until the more than 100 member countries of the WTO meet next December in Singapore. The industry coalition vows to fight back -- possibly by getting another country to propose the same restrictions.

One well-known eco-label is the "Energy Guide" (shown at right), which provides energy efficiency data for refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances. Other potentially affected labels are those identifying sustainably produced wood products and organically grown food.

Some industries fear they will lose out to more responsible competitors if eco-labels tell consumers how their products are actually made. In order to nip the worldwide eco-label movement in the bud, the industry coalition, including the American Forest and Paper Association and the American Plastics Council, asked the U.S. trade representative to give the WTO powers to review -- and ultimately eliminate -- eco-labeling schemes that give preference to products from one country over those from another. Such preferences could simply reflect tougher or different standards between countries. But the industry coalition charged those differences would restrict trade, and are therefore illegal under international trade rules.

Had industry gotten its way, the WTO would have acquired sweeping new powers to make judgments about an important environmental tool. Sierra Club trade activists had to hustle to derail the proposal -- getting 14 congressional signatures in eight hours on a letter to President Clinton drafted by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). Democratic leader Dick Gephardt then followed with a personal letter on the Club's behalf.

For more information: Contact Dan Seligman at the Washington, D.C., office at (202) 675-2387.

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