On May 3, 2023, Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, introduced the ‘‘Country of Origin Labeling Online Act’’ or the ‘‘COOL Online Act’’ in an attempt to require origin and location disclosure for new products of foreign origin offered for sale on the internet. Following previous unsuccessful attempts to pass similar legislation in 2020, this group of bipartisan senators has reintroduced legislation in an effort to promote goods made in America.
Currently only products sold in-person are required to disclose country-of-origin, however the Country of Origin Labeling Online Act seeks to amend labeling laws to force e-commerce sites to provide similar information. According to Senator Baldwin, “whether we buy things online or in-store, Americans have a right to know if the product they are purchasing was made in America, by American workers.” Senator Vance claimed that the legislation would, “close a legal loophole by extending current, commonsense labeling requirements to e-commerce.” Senator Brown asserted that, “companies shouldn’t be able to hide their ‘made in China’ label just because they’re selling online.” The percentage of total retail sales from e-commerce relative to in-store has been steadily increasing each year, causing groups such as the Coalition for a Prosperous America to become more vocal about the need for legislation. Proponents of this legislation argue that American consumers will prefer to buy American products should they have the full knowledge online of where retailed goods are manufactured which would be a boon for U.S. producers.
Big retailers, including electronics, furniture, and toy industries, have argued that this legislation would add onerous regulations for online sellers which could be complex both legally and technically to comply with. The National Retail Federation (“NRF”), the retail industry’s largest trade group, said back in 2021 that it “opposes the measure because it would create complications for retailers who might source any number of items – T-shirts, say, or strawberries – from multiple countries.”
The bill requires sellers to conspicuously disclose the country of origin of products sold over the internet. This includes compliance with the labeling of the country of origin of the product and the country of origin in which the seller has its principal place of business. There are several exclusions to this requirement – such as certain agricultural products, certain food and drug products, used or previously-owned articles, and small sellers with annual sales of less than $20,000 and fewer than 200 discrete sales. If passed and approved, the law would take effect 12 months after the date of the publication of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Agriculture, which must be signed within 6 months after the date of enactment.