Sweden may oppose German packaging law

Draft communication to European Commission says measure is a barrier to trade

Sweden could be about to publicly oppose Germany's packaging law amendment as a barrier to trade. ENDS Daily has obtained an unpublished draft communication to the European Commission which says that the proposal is "discriminatory against imports and...not proportional" to the desired environmental benefits.

Prepared by the National Board of Trade (NBT), Sweden's competent body on trade issues, the document proposes text for the Swedish environment ministry to send to the European Commission. It is not yet known whether the ministry will agree with the NBT; officials contacted by ENDS Daily would say only that the government "has not yet decided" on the issue.

Germany's packaging ordinance is currently in the process of being amended to "further enhance the ecological optimisation" of packaging and to comply with the 1994 EU packaging directive. Under EU rules, Germany has had to notify the proposed changes, giving other EU countries a chance to comment on them.

In fact, the NBT's main objection relates to a part of the proposed amendment that has been in force since the original ordinance was passed in 1991. This is the market quota system for refillable drinks containers, which is designed to support the substantial market share for refillables in Germany.

Whereas the directive "states no hierarchy between refillable and recycling," the German proposal "favours refillable systems through the quota system...and the high deposit which is levied on recyclable packaging," the NBT says.

Though the directive "states that the conditions shall be non-discriminatory against importers, the proposal will be discriminatory...as it easier for domestic manufacturers than for importers to fulfil with regard to refilling", the NBT feels. And, though the directive "states that member states may not obstruct packaging from entering the market...the proposed legislation favours refillable packaging and prevents recyclable packaging from entering the market on the same conditions."

The European packaging industry is heartened by the signs that Sweden will lodge a formal complaint. "We are on the record as opposing the maintenance of the refill quotas," says Julian Carroll, MD of Europen, the European organisation for packaging and the environment. "The packaging directive says clearly that any packaging that conforms with the essential requirements must be allowed."

Europen has been lobbying European governments to oppose Germany's new packaging law. According to Mr Carroll, the UK, the Netherlands and France may all send formal notices to the Commission before the 17 March deadline, as well as Sweden.

Meanwhile, the German government appears to be holding firm, at least until any formal complaints are sent. "We are checking whether we could replace the refillable quota," an environment ministry spokesman told ENDS. "But this is something for the future....We are not intending to change the draft of the packaging ordinance."

Follow Up:
Swedish National Board of Trade, tel: +46 8 791 0500; Europen, tel: +46 32 2 736 3600, German Environment Ministry, tel: +49 228 3050.

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