We have received several enquiries from the trade asking what origin should be stated on goods that have been produced and packed in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The following advice is designed to assist retailers to comply with the law. Where doubt remains retailers are advised to seek legal advice.
The EU/Israel Association Agreement, in force since 2000, provides for products from Israel to be imported into EU countries at a preferential tariff rate. But the EU and Israel differ over the territorial scope of the Agreement. The EU does not recognise as part of the State of Israel territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
Over the last year, the EU has become aware that Israel was exporting to the EU as 'Israeli' products originating from places brought under Israeli administration since 1967. There is nothing to prevent such products being imported into the EU, but, according to the EU they should not benefit from preferential treatment under the EU/Israel Association Agreement.
The European Commission therefore alerted importers in November 2001, through a notice in the EC Official Journal, that importers in EU countries had to take all the necessary precautions. It noted that putting into circulation goods produced in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories risked giving rise to a customs debt, ie that importers might have to pay national customs authorities the difference between the EU/Israel Association Agreement's preferential rate and the standard rate. This made clear that the onus was on importers in EU countries to take steps to establish whether the products involved were entitled to benefit from the EU's preferential tarriff rates.
There is a separate issue concerning the requirements under EC law for stating the origin of products on retail labels. This is important, both to provide a level playing field in trade across the Community and to provide information to consumers on the origin of products. The laws covering the labelling of fresh fruit and vegetables differ slightly from those for other products - an origin must be indicated on the package at all stages of distribution as well as at the retail point. But for both fruit and vegetables and for other products the broad purpose of EC labelling rules is to avoid misleading the consumer. Under EC law, the origin of a product for retail labelling purposes can be given as a region or other geographical indication that does not equate to a country or state, provided that the meaning is clear to the consumer. For certain goods this will be in addition to stating the country of origin.
In addition to horticultural produce, there are also special rules as to labelling of origin which apply in some other sectoral areas eg wine; beef; poultrymeat. The retailer has a responsibility to ensure that the relevant laws are complied with and, as necessary, to take legal advice on issues arising.