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Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue

Opposition to the EC's requirement that all products sold in the EU must be labelled in metric-only units from January 1st, 2000 led in 1997 to the formation of a coalition by a hundred companies and associations from the USA and Europe. The coalition was headed by the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue Group (TABD). The TABC stated:

"The incompatibility of the EU’s metric-only requirement with the US dual labeling requirement for consumer packaging is a serious problem for affected European and US companies because of the enormous non-value added costs (separate packaging, labeling, warehousing and inventory systems), the potential environmental impact, consumer safety issues, and the affect of increased costs on global competitiveness. EU and US industry share the view that the market should decide whether metric-only units provides sufficient information for the end-user or whether dual units of measurement e.g. metric and inch/pound should be used".

In other words, the coalition opposed metric-only labelling because of the duplicated processes and product lines that it would create; metric-only for the EU, and dual customary-metric for the USA. During a meeting of Coalition representatives and EC commissioners in Rome during November 1997, the Coalition urged an amendment to the EC directive to make an indefinite extension to the metric-only deadline. That the EC recognised the difficulties caused by metric-only labelling was indicated by a message sent by Brussels to US agencies summarising developments:

"Exporters, both European and American, have begun to focus on this deadline and are now openly voicing their objections, citing the costs of complying with conflicting EU metric-only and US mandatory dual-labelling requirements. At least one European Commission official is admitting that the trade implications of directive 80/181/EEC requiring metric-only labelling had not been thoroughly measured, and is indicating a willingness on the part of the Commission to reopen the issue to hear indsustry grievances".

European members of the coalition included companies and associations from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finalnd, Greece and Turkey. American companies that were part of the coalition included IBM, Mobil Oil, Estée Lauder and Hewlett Packard. British members included associations representing producers of food and drink, confectionery, perfumery, cosmetics and tea.

The TABD put forward the following reasons for opposition to metric-only labelling:

Extent of Impact: Annual bilateral trade of more than $126 billion in consumer goods and $160 billion in capital goods would be exposed to increased costs caused by the metric-only labeling requirement.
Financial and Logistical Burdens: Compliance with the Directive would require many companies engaged in US-EU trade to create separate packaging and labeling, manuals, product information inserts, software, design and engineering drawings, as well as maintain separate warehousing and inventory systems for metric and non-metric markets. Significant and unnecessary costs would be imposed on manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic, for many exceeding tens of millions of dollars/Euros annually, that will have to be passed on to consumers. The additional costs could force some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) out of the transatlantic marketplace or discourage their entry.
Environmental Concerns:  The metric-only labeling requirement could significantly compromise packaging and waste reduction objectives in the EU. Metric-only labeling, and other measures which restrict consumer information on packaging, forces EU manufacturers who sell globally including to the US, to utilize more packaging, eg one set for metric only and one set for dual units, whereas today the same package can often be used for both. This increases the amount of packaging that has to be produced and ultimately disposed of in the European environment. Metric-only and similarly restrictive labeling requirements appear at odds with provisions of the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (No. 94/62) which encourage standards that prevent packaging waste.
Consumer Safety: For some industries there are serious safety concerns. The elimination of inch-pound measurements in design and engineering drawings and instrumentation could compromise product integrity and safety. Higher risks of human error are also introduced if the end-user is not proficient in metric. Equipment manufacturers point out that the conversion of inch/pound units to metric is not exact and theirs is a sector where precision is vital.

During 1998, the EC made a number of proposals, including a 3 to 5 year delay on metric-only labelling, with possible extensions for individual industries if they could justify a need. After protests by TABC members that such a plan would cause "serious disruptions" to business, the European Commission proposed in February 1999 a blanket delay of the metric-only labelling for 10 years ie until 31 December 2009. The proposal was sent to the European Parliament, which on December 15th 1999, just two weeks before the cut-off point, approved the proposal. The Council of Ministers confirmed this decision December 17th.

The EU Parliament acknowledged the disadvantage to exporters that would result if only metric units were permitted on all products as of January 1, 2000, while the TABD described the ten-year delay as an "important safeguard to protect EU and US industry from enormous additional costs and regulatory uncertainty".

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