Tue, 02 Aug 1994

Eco-labeling starts hurting textile exports

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia may have already lost some of its potential export markets for textiles and garments, the first victims of the "eco-labeling" policy, State Minister of Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said yesterday.

Sarwono disclosed that 60 Indonesian textile exporters have received questionnaires from foreign consultant companies, asking about their policy towards protecting the environment.

Only 16 replied, and three of them have sought the help of the Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal), he told reporters yesterday after meeting with President Soeharto at the Bina Graha office.

Those who did not respond have simply lost their market and those who answered wrongly also suffered, he said, adding that Indonesian textile producers are now facing fierce competition from India, Vietnam and China.

He said the consultants probably already knew about the conditions in Indonesia and sent the questionnaires simply to probe the companies' commitment to environmental protection.

Eco-labeling is the term used to describe the increasing trend in developed countries to impose tight environmental restrictions against imports. Products whose processing might involve tampering with the environment are required to be labeled to indicate that the manufacturers have taken all possible precautions to preserve the environment.

Indonesia has established an independent eco-labeling body, which is a non-governmental organization, headed by Emil Salim, the former environmental minister, but the agency has become preoccupied with the affairs of the timber industry.

"We're suggesting that the agency expand its activity beyond timber," Sarwono said.

Europe has already subjected many products to eco-labeling, for example by compelling refrigerators to be more energy efficient, or washing machines to be designed solely for use with environmentally friendly detergents.

These products must also stipulate that their components and parts can be recycled.

Even tissues and toilet papers are also subject to eco-labeling, he said.

Sarwono said that when it comes to eco-labeling, Indonesia is trailing far behind many countries, including neighboring Malaysia.

The number of Malaysian companies whose industrial products already meet the ISO 9000 international standards reaches 300, while Indonesia only has 16.

"We're not talking about the higher ISO 14000 which involves the basic management on environmental aspects. We are not only not ready for that, but many of us are not even aware that it exists," he said. "If that's the way we work, how can we compete?"

Unless companies get their act together in preserving the environment, Indonesia could eventually be forced to simply rely on its cheap labor, he said. "We'd become international hawkers." (emb)