United States proposes WTO investigation into recycled plastics trade

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US Congress

A proposal has been made by the United States for an investigation into improving the recycled plastics trade to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

It has suggested a thematic session that would explore the current landscape in terms of both regulations by countries of plastic packaging and developing regulatory approaches that minimise waste leakage and pollution while still encouraging trade and innovation.

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In its proposal, the United States noted that 8 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans each year.

Countries have responded to this by banning single-use plastics, mandating certain levels of recycled content in plastic packaging, and extended producer responsibility requirements.

It added: “At this early stage, we notice a trend in which requirements may be adopted without a risk assessment, life-cycle assessment, adequate recycled content supply to meet domestic production/use targets, cost-benefit analysis, evaluation of the cost, suitability, and environmental impact of alternative products/packaging materials, or sufficient time for supply chain adjustment and changes in manufacturing processes.

“Further, in some instances, the application of such measures to imports and to plastic products manufactured for export, as well as the verification processes to confirm compliance, are not clear.

“Moreover, banning certain products or materials prior to identifying suitable alternatives while not allowing sufficient time for supply chains and manufacturing processes to adjust could have devastating impacts on fragile economies that are still recovering from, or remain in crisis, due to the pandemic.

“Such actions may also have a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized enterprises.

“More information sharing is needed to exchange best practices in addressing plastic waste, including frameworks to evaluate the risks and alternatives and the variety of means to promote responsible use and recycling domestically and across borders.

“Flexibility is necessary and different policy approaches to address plastic packaging waste that may become marine litter or pollution need to take into consideration unique national circumstances.”

The United States said that topics for investigation could include:

a. Exploration of regulatory flexibility/alternatives that leverage effective approaches used
by vendors globally;
b. Presentations by WTO Members that are currently developing standards and regulations
to manage plastic waste and pollution (including those that may involve certification or
labelling) and to promote innovation, with a focus on identification of best practices for
facilitation of trade;
c. Challenges, limitations, and potential trade implications of leveraging existing conformity
assessment frameworks;
d. Presentations by interested stakeholders, including Members, industry, international
organisations, or non-government organisations, that are currently developing or have
developed approaches to manage plastic waste and promote reuse, recycling and
innovation, including those that may involve certification or labeling, voluntary initiatives,
suitability, cost of viable alternatives, and supply chain and manufacturing considerations
with a focus on identification of best practices for facilitation of trade.

The proposal by the United States was made as part of the Ninth Triennial Review of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) committee of the WTO.

It will be considered among other proposals as part of the review by TBT committee members before the end of the year.

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