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WTO Ruling May Force Kiwis to Eat GE Food


22 December 2005

WTO Ruling May Force Kiwis to Eat GE Food

The promise by the New Zealand government that they will protect Kiwis' right to avoid GE foods could be completely undermined by a decision at the WTO expected to go public in early January.

Reports from Hong Kong have signalled that the WTO has given its backing to the US in its complaint aimed at forcing Europe to accept GE products.

Such a decision will threaten the New Zealand public's rights to ensure GE free food remains available and affordable and does not become the preserve of only the rich.

The prospect of a WTO decision effectively forcing countries to take GE foods or pay the US and other GE-producers massive "compensation" is a threat to democracy, sovereignty, and the fundamental right for communities the world-over to choose GE-free food.

The WTO decision is a unique and shocking form of intervention in the market which has seen consumers clearly reject GE foods. In effect the WTO decision falsifies the market for GE products by forcing them on unwilling consumers. The move comes at a time when recently published research has shown that yet another GE food (peas) produces adverse effects in young rats.

Of equal concern is the previous backing of the US's WTO case by New Zealand government representatives, despite huge protests in this country in support of the right to choose GE free food and production systems.

If the WTO move goes ahead it will add to growing alarm amongst consumer groups following the decision by the New Zealand government to block mandatory Country of Origin Labelling on food.

Taken together with other actions by New Zealand to back development of Terminator gene technology, New Zealand now risks losing any credibilty it may have had as a fair broker and voice for justice in the world, built around our Nuclear-free stance.

"The New Zealand government must make a public committment to oppose WTO rules that will force New Zealanders to import, grow or eat GE products that 75% of people in the most recent surveys have said they do not want," says Jon Carapiet of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

"If the WTO decision is confirmed on 5th of January as expected, it represents an unacceptable creation of a false-market and will inevitably lead to further protests around the world," says Mr Carapiet.

The decision is likely to be another major factor in galvanising public opposition to the worst extremes of the WTO agenda and place the organisation's future further in doubt.

This decision by the WTO will unite the consumers of the world - individuals and parents wanting to feed their families with safe, nutritious and GE Free food- to share the anger and concerns of people in the agricultural food bowls of the developing world who are having their futures and rights undermined by GE and unfair trade rules.

ENDS


REFERENCE

WTO GM trade war - has Europe lost the case? SOURCE: Friends of the Earth, UK http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/

archive: http://www.genet-info.org/

WTO GM trade war - has Europe lost the case?

The Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organisation has today (Weds) refused to confirm rumours that Europe has lost the transatlantic trade dispute on genetically modified (GM) foods. One of the issues at stake is whether European countries can continue to maintain national bans on the import of GM products on a country by country basis.

Former WTO chief, Supachai Panitchpakdi, suggested recently that Europe had lost the trade dispute, a view confirmed last week by the French International Trade Minister, Christine Lagard. Deputy Director General of the WTO Alejandro Jara refused to comment on the statements from Supachai and Lagard.

The WTO is due to issue its draft final report on the GM trade dispute lead by the US against Europe on 5 January 2006.

Environmental campaigners have delivered a petition to the WTO signed by more than 135,000 people from 100 countries and by 740 organisations representing 60 million people, demanding the WTO allows European countries to protect their environment, consumers and farming from the risks posed by GM foods.

Friends of the Earth Europe Trade campaigner Alexandra Wandel said: "The World Trade Organisation should have the guts to tell European consumers that free trade rules come before their safety and that they will be forced to eat genetically modified foods whether they want to or not. The WTO is the wrong place to be deciding what we eat and how we protect our environment. It is time they got their hands off our food."

Green Party WTO delegate Caroline Lucas MEP said: "The right of individual countries to decide whether or not to allow GMOs in their food chains or their environment is a key element of the democratic principles which are supposed to underpin the EU itself. Neither the WTO nor the EU have any right to overrule the clear majority of EU citizens who do not want GMOs in their communities."

French Farmer José Bové said: "Farmers and consumers are strongly opposed to GMOs. We will take action to keep Europe GMO free and to protect the world from GM farming."

Indian Ecologist Vandana Shiva said: "The transatlantic trade dispute shows the worst face of the WTO. Despite the fact that the UN Biosafety Protocol allows countries to use the precautionary principle to ban the import of GMOs, the WTO may force feed us GMOs"

Notes

WTO Deputy Director General Alejandro Jara met Jose Bove, Vandana Shiva, Caroline Lucas MEP and campaigners earlier today at the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong.High-resolution photographs will be available from Friends of the Earth at www.bite-back.org/pics/handover.htm at midday UK time

Further information is available at www.bite-back.org/

The "Bite Back" citizen's objection was initiated by Friends of the Earth International with the support of ActionAid Alliance, Public Services International, Public Citizen, the International Gender and Trade Network, the French Confédération Paysanne, and the Indian Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology.

The WTO is expected to issue a draft final report on 5th January 2006. In line with WTO secrecy, the draft ruling will only be sent to the countries in the dispute. This will be the basis for the final ruling expected later in March or April.

According to witnesses, former WTO Director General and now Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Supachai Panitchpakdi, made it clear that Europe had lost the trade dispute over GM foods in a meeting on November 28th with Indian NTGOs. French International Trade Minister, Christine Lagard, confirmed this in a meeting with French NGOs on December 8th. She apparently deplored the fact that such information, which should have remained confidential in the pre-Ministerial period, was communicated in the context of the "Pre- Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting Consultation Workshop: Identifying India's Core Concerns", organised jointly by the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry (Department of Commerce) and UNCTAD.

Background

In May 2003 the United States, supported by Canada, Argentina and initially Egypt, made a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about Europe's stance on genetically modified organisms (GMO). In January the WTO will publish an Interim Report into the dispute. This will be a draft of the final ruling expected later in March or April.

What was the complaint?

The US-led coalition alleges that Europe has:

- Refused to give the approval to a number of new GM foods,

- Stopped processing the applications for new GMOs,

- Not taken action to stop EU member states banning GM products.

The US argues that Europe's position on GMOs violates WTO rules and is a barrier to trade. In particular, it claims that US farmers have lost exports because they grow GM crops not approved in Europe. President Bush later added that the EU's moratorium was impeding efforts to feed the world. He stated that "European governments should join - not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."

What has happened in the meantime

- Egypt pulls out Soon after launching the dispute Egypt angered the US by pulling out altogether, citing "the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection." As the only African country in the coalition this was a crucial blow to their "feed the world" argument.

- Secret panel meetings After failing to resolve differences the WTO set up a panel of trade experts to examine the case. They have met in secrecy and have taken evidence behind closed doors from the countries involved and also third party countries who wanted to take part.

- Scientists called in The US argued heavily for science to be kept out of the dispute, stating that it was a trade complaint and the safety of GM foods was not at stake. However the WTO panel disagreed and set up a group of scientists to examine the facts and report on whether there were scientific grounds for Europe taking such a position. The scientists report has not been made public.

- Europe's defence The European Commission has argued in the WTO that the science on GMOs is constantly evolving and that "new risk considerations sometimes arise spontaneously and change the scope of the risk assessment". They also argues that there are "legitimate scientific concerns" about the use of antibiotic resistant genes and secondary effects of GM crops on beneficial insects.

- Europe's double standards Under pressure from the WTO and biotech industry, the European Commission however promotes GM foods and has forced through a number of new GMOs despite being unable to get sufficient support from EU member states.

In addition it took major steps to try and get member states to lift their national bans on GM products. The move back-fired when the Council of Environment Ministers voted down a Commission proposal to stop the bans in June 2005.

- Bite Back - Hands off our food! Because of the WTO's secret ways of working, the general public has been locked out of this dispute from the beginning. A number of Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have however been active in making their views heard. Some groups have sent in their own legal submissions to the WTO. Over 740 organisations with a combined membership of 60 million people have supported a campaign called Bite Back - Hands off our food! (www.bite-back.org). This campaign demands that the WTO does not force GM foods on people against their wishes.

What are the ramifications?

Since the beginning of the WTO case, the European Commission has taken a much more proactive position on GMOs, using its legal powers to end the six-year long moratorium and promoting GM foods despite the massive objection from its citizens. If Europe loses the WTO case, then they will either have to accept more GM foods or face hefty sanctions on EU products.

The biggest impact of the trade dispute goes well beyond Europe's shores. The case serves as a warning to other countries, particularly developing countries, not to restrict access to their markets by banning or restricting GMOs. In a similar case over beef hormones, once the US started a WTO trade complaint no other country in the world banned them. Although the US is hoping that this is also the case with GMOs it is unlikely to be so easy.

Public protest against GM foods is worldwide and the Untied Nations has established a Biosafety Protocol to protect developing countries from GMOs.

What next?

The Interim Report will be sent to the countries in the dispute for their comments on 5th January. They will then have 3 weeks to submit their comments. There is then the opportunity for countries to comment on the other parties comments before a final ruling is issued, currently due on 20 March. This will then be translated into the official WTO languages and issued to all members of the WTO in April/May.

Following the final report it is likely that the loser will launch an appeal against the verdict. In the meantime, the European Commission aims to push for the approval of GMOs and the lifting of national bans. The environment, farmers and consumers would be the losers, biotech companies the big winners.


ends

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