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US. Canada Argentina Challenge EU biotech block

European Communities — Measures affecting the approval and marketing of biotech products

The US, Canada and Argentina introduced their first-time panel requests (respectively, WT/DS291/23, WT/DS292/17, & WT/DS293/17). They all stated that, regarding EC-level measures, the moratorium maintained since October 1998 on the approval of biotech products had restricted the imports of agricultural and food products. Regarding the EC member State-level measures, the complainants said that a number of EC member States maintain national marketing and import bans on biotech products even though those products have already been approved by the EC.

The US further clarified that the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement recognizes that WTO members may adopt approval procedures for crops and food products, including biotech products, in order to protect health and the environment. The US emphasized that the EC procedures, as written, are not the focus of the US complaint. It is the EC's application of its measures governing the approval of biotech products. The US also expressed its concern that the EC measures were hindering the worldwide development and application of agricultural biotechnology – a technology which, according to the US, has great promise for raising farmer productivity, reducing hunger and improving health in the developing world, and improving the environment.

Argentina added that agricultural products account for over half of Argentina's total exports, and that it is the second largest producer and exporter of biotech products in the world. Argentina said that the EC's “behaviour” discourages the introduction of the biotech process, and that it is particularly detrimental because EC has the ability to influence other WTO members.

In response, the EC expressed surprise and disappointment at the panel requests. The EC said that it had repeatedly made clear that the approval of genetically-modified organisms and genetically-modified food was possible in the EU, that a number of applications were being examined and decisions would be taken shortly. The EC further pointed out that 18 GMOs and 15 food products derived from GMOs have been approved and that these GM products are imported each year by the EC.

The EC said that it had serious doubts that the complaining members were interested in seeking a satisfactory outcome to the consultations. It said that it was puzzled by the US attitude during the consultations period which cast doubt about the US willingness to engage in a meaningful dialogue in good faith. The EC said that it was extremely disappointed that the members requesting a panel had not chosen the path of international cooperation to build an appropriate framework for the development of biotechnology, while seriously addressing any potential risks and social concerns. The EC emphasized that every country should be free to make its own decisions and to determine the appropriate level of protection for its citizens. The EC concluded by saying that it could not agree to the establishment of a panel.

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