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European Union Directive: American Exporters Must Use the Metric System Only

Our reader ROA writes: "Anyone from an EU country that complains about the US being power mad, arrogant, fascist, bullying, etc.  should be ashamed of themselves.  I personally would like to see the US implement the metric system, but think the EU's attempt to block any measurements other than metric is an example of a power mad megalomaniac bureaucracy run amok." ROA refers to the European Union Metric Directive, which means according to the U.S. Government's Export Portal:
After January 1, 2000, all products sold in the EU needed to specify and label in metric measurements only. Prior to implementation, the European Commission recommended a 10-year deferral of the metric-only directive, allowing companies to use dual labeling through 2009. The delay provides time for U.S. companies to prepare for a metric-only European market beginning January 1, 2010. After the EU Directive takes effect, member and associated countries will no longer permit dual indications of measurement. U.S. exporters can no longer label or print inches, pounds, or any other non-metric measurement on shipments. This affects labels, packaging, advertising, catalogs, technical manuals, and instructions.
The US  Department of Commerce organized a public forum on the EU's Metric Directive for all interested stakeholders on October 12, 2006.
A Telegraph blog post, recommended by ROA, argues:
An extraordinary row, involving major European and US industries, is blowing up over the European Commission's determination to make it illegal, in three years' time, for any products made in or imported into the EU to carry any reference to non-metric measures. Not only will this cost industries on both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars and euros, but it is in direct breach of US federal law. The Commission is so set on stamping out the hated non-metric system that, as of January 1, 2010, it is imposing a total ban on what it calls "supplementary indications" – ie any mention of inches, pounds or other non-metric units in advertising, labelling, catalogues, manuals and the like.
I doubt whether the directive is in breach of US law. The Telegraph blogger explains "Any European firm wishing to sell to the US will not be allowed to refer at all to the units its American customers understand. This in itself will be illegal under the US Fair Trade and Packaging Act, which permits use of metric units only so long as they are accompanied by a US non-metric "translation"." Though, I can't imagine that the EU is telling European companies that they must use metric labels only for their exports to the US. That would be bad for our companies. I think the directive concerns only imports to the EU.

Endnote: The European Commission's Press Office in London debunks Euromyths. Re Metrication:
Metrication in the UK is not the result of British membership of the EU. In 1965, eight years before joining the EEC, the Wilson Government decided to initiate the UK's metrication programme, in response to global moves in this direction – Ireland and all Commonwealth countries had already adopted the metric system.

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[Source: Atlantic Review - Analysis of Transatlantic Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy] quoted: An extraordinary row, involving major European and US industries, is blowing up over the European Commission's determination to make it illegal, in three years' time, for any products made in or imported into the EU to carry any reference to non-metric measures. Not only will this cost industries on both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars and euros, but it is in direct breach of US federal law.


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Zyme on :

Bow to the power of globalization :)

Don S on :

I think Zyme has this one exactly right. Bow to the power of the EU. I have little problem with the EU requiring metric measurements on products sold in the EU - although it is scarcely necessary to do so. The EU uses the metic system full stop - only a foolish (would be) exporter would ignore the metric system. Many of the other EU regulations made a lot of sense. Unified safety standards for the entire EU for example. If they were more stringent than those required in the US, what of it? It still made sense to manufacture to EU standards so that economies of scale from selling a product globally could be realised. This goes the other direction, preventing manufacturers from selling the same product in the EU and the US. It also prevents companies from offering a measurement which consumers in some countries (the UK and Ireland) find useful. This regulation actively destroys economic value - and for what gain? I don't see why the EU would do this - except as a control issue....

Zyme on :

This shows exactly why the EU is primarily for the benefit of its biggest members: When standards are unified, the standards of the nations with the greatest influence prevail. This is the main reason why I don´t worry about the money germany pays to the EU. "This regulation actively destroys economic value - and for what gain?" For the gain of standardization - and in the long run: efficiency.

joe on :

Does seem the EU wants a trade war.

Don S on :

I don;t think they think of it in that manner. My first thought is that the US Congress would require that products sold in the US be lables in English measures exclusively. But that would make no sense at all. Neither does what the EU is doing, of course. It's not a huge issue - manufacturers will find ways to comply with the law at relatively little cost. But it't one of those little irritations that the EU seems determined to heap upon the rest of the world......

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Well, it seems an odd requirement. When I travel in Europe I note that many packages have the ingredients, directions, etc in numerous languages. That would seem an economic advantage, to let people in both Italy and Sweden what's in the box in a way each feels comfortable. If companies wanted to put any number of local measurements, slang terms, or anything else they thought would increase customer comfort, I don't see why they shouldn't. Would the EU forbid printing directions in Russian or Japanese? This seems the same. Zyme, I see your point, but I don't think there actually will be a standardization gain, even in the long run. The idea that everyone would be thinking in the same units if some of the stronger competitors were eliminated sounds as if it could plausibly increase efficiency, but I don't think it's any more than a guess.

Tcobb on :

It will be interesting to see if it works both ways. Most European cars sold in the US have dual indicators on the speedometers from which one can guage the speed either in kilometers per hour or in miles per hour. Since the speed limits in the US are set in miles/per hour, will the European cars exported to the United States be allowed to indicate the speed in miles per hour? Apparently not. Let's see how the US Congress responds to that. I suspect it won't be in a way that the European auto manufacturers will like to see.

Mike Perry on :

This bit of EU madness could prove particularly interesting where books are concerned--and books are specifically mentioned in this ban. Do they intend to ban all books that contain their size and weight in tiny type on the copyright page if, along with metric measures, those books include English measures? That's the book equivalent of labeling a carton of milk. I've got a book by a prominent Italian scientist whose copyright page clearly says, "6 x 9 x 0.4 inches & 0.6 lb." Will that single inch of tiny type make it a crime to sell the book in the EU? And what is going to happen to cookbooks published in the U.S. and popular in Europe? I suspect talented European cooks have kitchens fully equipped to follow English measures--they're much better than metric anyway. Is the EU going to ban classic and bestselling cookbooks, many of them about European cooking, simply because they mention cups and teaspoons? And this isn't even getting into where books are really influential--brilliantly written fiction. Will Shakespeare be banned? How about Mark Twain or J.R.R Tolkien? Will any U.S. author who writes a novel and insidiously slips between the pages propaganda for inches, feet and miles be censored? Will someone who writes a tale set in the Middle Ages have to incongruously slip in metric measures? Will books that take place in the U.S. have to act as if our speed limits were in Km/Hr? If you intend to forcibly metricize Europe, a good novel is a lot more dangerous than the label on a carton of milk. And what are they going to do about books in a publisher's inventory whose sales don't justify a new and costly print run just for the EU? Will those books no longer be available in Europe? As best I recall, Nazism only banned a few hundred books because they didn't fit its ideology. The EU's ideology will ban, at the very least, tens of thousands of books for ideological reasons. What are they going to do with books that arrive in the EU in defiance of this ban? Will they burn them in large bonfires while EU officials gleefully dance in front of the flames? It would be apt. We should recall Emile Zola's famous criticism of official French nineteenth-century anti-Semitic policy in "J'Accuse." Freedom of the press is most important when it is, explicitly or implicitly, a criticism of an official goverment policy. The more the EU claims that going metric is EU policy, the greater our free speech right to defy that policy--in short, to issue a J'Accuse, and accuse EU of practicing metric facism: "Ein Meter, Ein Liter, Ein Kilogram." Perhaps the best response to this madness would be a mirror import policy by the U.S. If a country bans the import of a category of US product that contains English measures, then that county's exports of the same product to the U.S. would have to include English measures. The law could not be more fair. If U.S. manufacturers have to produce EU-only products with only metric measures, then it's only fitting that EU producers have to produce US-only products. And yes, it would be a silly trade war, but all the silliness would be coming from the EU side of the Atlantic. And we'd be treating the EU more fairly than they're treating us. We'd have no prohibition on their making dual-measure products that could be sold around the world. It would only be the EU's own domestic ban on English-measure products that would force EU manufacturers to create separate products for the U.S. --Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Mike, Thanks for reading and commenting on the Atlantic Review. Great questions. I have sent an email to the EU Commission.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I have forwarded your questions to the US office of the EU Commission and also asked about the Telegraph's claim about EU exports to the US: "We have many readers in the United States. Recently some of them asked us about the EU Metric Directive. One of them found a report saying that European exporters to the United States must only use metric measures. That's wrong, isn't it? This would be bad for EU companies." I have received this response: [quote="EU Commission"]In regards to your enquiry, we would be able to tell you the requirement for US products being shipped to Europe but not vice-versa. In order to attain that information, I would recommend contacting the appropriate US government office.[/quote] I take that as a "No". The Telegraph claim mentioned in the post ("Any European firm wishing to sell to the US will not be allowed to refer at all to the units its American customers understand.") sounded crazy anyway. That author must have misunderstood something. [quote="EU Commission"] In order to find labeling regulations for products being shipped to Europe it would depend on the product, and thereby its industry classification. For instance, here is some information about labeling directives in the cosmetics industry: Please refer to articles 6 and 7, beginning on page 8 of the document: The following website provides a detailed summary of cosmetic legislation in the European Union including composition and labeling requirements: In terms of what type of weight measurements to use, such as whether it is necessary to use the metric system, the following Directive, Directive 80/181/EEC sets out the measurements required in the European Union, and sets out the timelines for ending the use of other measuring systems in the EU: Further information is also available from the following website: In addition to following all of the above EU legislation on cosmetic products, it would also be necessary to contact the authorities of each EU member state in which the person wished to export their products. All EU legislation takes the form of a what are called directives, i.e. they are valid in each in member states, however, individual member states are allowed to add their own regulations to such directives. [/quote]

Don S on :

The effect may be slightly to wall off the US from the EU marketplace, and conversely. But I think the most pronounced effect is within the EU itself. This ruling favors very large producers and exporters over those who might wish to challenge them in future. It doesn't really affect very small producers because their markets don't usually extend to the US - and in some cases (cheese, olives, meats, sausages, etc) are sold by weight in any case - so printed measurements have no impact. The small sellers have already been impacted by existing laws forbidding them from selling with scales marked with English measurements. The problem comes for medium scale producers. The large established producers in the old EU countries probably already do seperate packaging and product lines for export to the US. It's the medium outfits who might wish to produce 'one package for all' products - this means they cannot do this and will have to add to their expenses by producing two lines. My question is why the EU continually does this kind of thing? It seems unnecessary and I think it depresses economic growth - possible global economic growth. Just a little but it seems supremely stupid.

Erwin on :

finaly !! hope it will ban even more imperial idiots. America is METRIC just look below, just the majority of rednecks are to dumm to get it !!! Any backward third world country got that but not arrogant stupid dumm america !!!! That is the ONLY point. In 1875, the United States solidified its commitment to the development of the internationally recognized metric system by becoming one of the original seventeen signatory nations to the Convention du Mètre, also known as the Meter Convention or the Treaty of the Meter. The signing of this international agreement concluded five years of meetings in which the metric system was reformulated, refining the accuracy of its standards. The Treaty of the Meter established the Bureau international des poids et mesures (BIPM, International Bureau of Weights and Measures) in Sèvres, France, to provide standards of measurement for worldwide use. In 1893, under the Mendenhall Order, metric standards, developed through international cooperation under the auspices of BIPM, were adopted as the fundamental standards for length and mass in the United States. The customary measurements – the foot, pound, quart, etc. – have been defined in relation to the meter and the kilogram ever since. The 1895 Utah Constitution, in Article X, Section 11, originally mandated that: "The Metric System shall be taught in the public schools of the State." This section was, however, later repealed.[1]

Pat Patterson on :

There has always been and will be a very good reason that Americans and most of the Anglosphere will cling to the British Imperial System or the US Customary Units, even if officially metric, is that all of our land measurements are in the old systems and the task of going back over and remeasuring every square inch, oops meter, of the US is simply a non-starter. Not to mention the legal mess that would probably keep civil courts active and county registrars suicidal for one thousand years. We, California, are still dealing with Mexican land grant issues left over from the Treaty of Guadlupe-Hidalgo. All one has to do is fly over the United States and Canada to realize that there a millions of acres laid out in townships of 6 sq miles to sections of 1 sq mile and then to the smallest acre, patterns that stretch from the Rio Grande to Hudson's Bay. In the primary grades it is easier to teach fractions then decimals because it is much easier to divide 100 inches by fractions than decimals. But in scientific measurements, which the US has used since the 1840's then the metric system is easier and more accurate and will continue to be so. But again the citizens of the US simply do not want an either or fiat from the government but simply use whatever system is best for the situation. Now what if the US on the other hand demanded that all imports from Europe not only show the equivalent US Units but also be only sold in US Units as well. And let's also say that all screws, bolts, threads and tubing in Volkswagens have to be retrofitted would the Europeans be quite as anxious to remain on that high horse. Plus unlike Europe changing over the measurement system in the US would be one of those areas where the citizens would say that this issue is simply to important to leave to the politicians or the experts. Americans simply don't want to change and probably won't. As to the Utah Constitution the citizens of the territory voted against ratification as well as being still fairly unhappy with the banning of polygamy. This was their sixth attempt at a constitution since 1857. I'm not to sure that equating the adoption of the metric system and keeping polygamy indicate the kind of forward thinking that is loved on the eastern shore of the Atlantic.

Zyme on :

"I'm not to sure that equating the adoption of the metric system and keeping polygamy indicate the kind of forward thinking that is loved on the eastern shore of the Atlantic." Well personally I would say people shall get happy the way they like to - but we also don´t have the pursuit of happiness in our constitution here :D

Philip Corner on :

Nobody in Europe (except maybe in Britain, and even there really only seniors and a few exceptions like pints and miles) uses anything but the metric system these days. Putting weights and measures in anything but metric just confuses consumers. Why should 450 million Europeans adjust their thinking just to keep American exporters happy. If American companies aren't happy about it maybe they shouldn't export here. The fact is that only the USA, Liberia and Myanmar are the nations on Earth that don't use the metric system. Why should the other 95% of the people on Earth bend over backwards to cater to American whims? That's just plain arrogance. And there is a reason to force metric - it gives the consumer power. How? Well, Americans tend to overlook the fact that many languages are spoken in Europe, not to mention 3 official alphabets. If a consumer were to buy a Bulgarian or Greek made product the numbers on a package are guaranteed to meaningful. 100 = 100g... If EU states were able to label products willy nilly then confusion might arise. Granted, Europe is more less wholly metric, but any non standard local variations that do exist would doubtless cause a million problems.

Pat Patterson on :

The issue, if you had read the entire article and thread, was not either/or but simply both. American goods are currently labeled with both systems and that seems to work fine as Americans simply, for the most part, ignore the measurements in metric. Just as the Europeans, if both measurements are on the label, can simply ignore the Imperial system.

avcom on :

I totally agree with you Philip. I also hate that stupid American date format which write mm/dd/yyyy instead of dd/mm/yyyy like the rest of the world. Their operating systems, printers, computers keep defaulting to this format no matter where you buy them, pretty stubborn and arrogance from my point of view. Also the stupid "Legal" size papers they use in America as opposed to the A4 uses by pretty much 99.99% of the world is just a pain. And their company esp. HP keep defaulting this paper on their printers and scanners. This is so stupid, may be the rest of the world should give America a lesson about world citizenship huh.

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