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U.S: WTO Sought to Consider European Biotech Bans

U.S. Requests WTO Panel to Consider European Biotech Bans

Contends bans, moratorium inconsistent with EC trade obligations

The United States has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a panel to consider complaints by the United States, Canada and Argentina about European restrictions on imports of foods derived from agricultural biotechnology.

In an August 18 statement to the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), Ambassador Linnet Deily said the United States is also requesting details from the European Communities (EC) on the more than 30 biotech products affected by the moratorium.

The United States is "gravely concerned" about the EC's five-year moratorium on approvals of new biotech crops and about individual EC member states' marketing and import bans of certain biotech products, Deily said. The measures are inconsistent with the EC's obligations under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Agreement on Agriculture and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and are hindering the worldwide development and application of the technology, she said.

The ambassador added that: "As the EC's own scientists have stated, there is no scientific basis" for either the moratorium or bans on products that had already been approved by the EC before the moratorium went into effect in October 1998.

Following is the text of Deily's statement:

Ambassador Linnet Deily, U.S. Representative to the WTO, made the following statement to the August 18 meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body.

EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES -- MEASURES AFFECTING THE APPROVAL AND MARKETING OF BIOTECH PRODUCTS

A. REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY THE UNITED STATES (WT/DS291/23)

B. REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY CANADA (WT/DS292/17)

C. REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY ARGENTINA (WT/DS293/17)]


The United States is gravely concerned with the EC's application of its measures governing the approval of the products of agricultural biotechnology.

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures recognizes that Members may adopt approval procedures for crops and food products, including biotech products, in order to protect health and the environment. EC legislation sets out such procedures, and those procedures, as written, are not the focus of the U.S. complaint. The United States only asks that those procedures be permitted to proceed to their normal conclusion.

Rather, the United States is concerned that the EC and its member States, in implementing the EC legislation, have adopted measures that are inconsistent with the EC's obligations under the WTO Agreement.

First, since October 1998, the European Communities ("EC") has applied a moratorium on the approval of all biotech products. The existence of the moratorium is indisputable: the EC has not considered a biotech product for approval in nearly 5 years, and high-level EC officials have acknowledged its existence in public statements.

Under this moratorium, the EC has blocked all applications for placing biotech products on the market, and has not considered any application for final approval. The U.S. panel request details over 30 specific biotech products affected by this moratorium.

Second, six EC member States maintain marketing and import bans on certain biotech products, even though these products had actually been approved by the EC prior to the imposition of the moratorium.

As the EC's own scientists have stated, there is no scientific basis for either the approval moratorium or the member State bans. As a result, the United States maintains that these measures are inconsistent with the EC's obligations under various provisions of the SPS Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, the Agreement on Agriculture, and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, as specified in the U.S. panel request.

The EC approval moratorium and the member State bans have restricted imports of agricultural and food products from the United States. More broadly, the United States is concerned that the EC's measures are hindering the worldwide development and application of agricultural biotechnology. This technology has great promise for raising farmer productivity, reducing hunger and improving health in the developing world, and improving the environment.

On June 19, the United States and Argentina jointly consulted with the EC concerning the approval moratorium and the member State bans. Canada held separate consultations with the EC on these same measures. At the consultations, the EC neither agreed to lift its moratorium or the member State bans, nor did it offer any scientific justification for its measures.

Accordingly, the United States requests that the DSB establish a panel pursuant to Article 6 of the DSU with standard terms of reference to examine these matters. The United States also submits that under Article 9.1 of the DSU [Dispute Settlement Understanding], a single panel should be established to consider the matters raised by the United States, Argentina, and Canada.

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