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7-Misc: U.S. seeks to put gene-modified crop issue on WTO agenda

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TITLE:  U.S. seeks to put gene-modified crop issue on WTO agenda
SOURCE: Dow Jones, Paris, France, by Mia Trinephi
with contribution of Matthew Newman
DATE:   May 4, 1999

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U.S. Seeks To Put Gene-Modified Crop Issue On WTO Agenda

The U.S. is looking to put the issue of genetically modified organisms on the agenda at the next round of global trade talks, sources close to the U.S. government said Tuesday. The U.S. will continue its bilateral talks with the European Union to speed up E.U. approval of genetically modified corn developed by Monsanto Corp. of the U.S., Novartis of Switzerland and Hoechst Schering AgrEvo GmbH of Germany. However, the sources said that U.S. trade representatives, frustrated at what they see as E.U. feet-dragging on authorizing the import of U.S.-produced GMOs, believe that trade in genetically modified crops is an important enough issue to merit the World Trade Organization's full attention.

The U.S. could be shut out of the E.U. corn market this year because of E.U. delays in approving the sale of genetically modified corn varieties grown in the U.S., U.S. farm officials said in Brussels last month. At least two gene-modified corn varieties grown in the U.S. have yet to be approved for sale in the E.U. While the U.S. government has no specific plan to raise the GMO issue at the WTO - because there are no grounds for a trade dispute right now, unlike the cases of beef and banana exports to the E.U. - the sources said genetically modified crops "will have to be addressed somehow in the next round of talks." The sources, participating in a round-table discussion with a group of U.S. biotechnology experts at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, noted that a transatlantic biotechnology working group is looking for ways to make U.S. and E.U. regulators more familiar with each other's rules.

U.S. Frustrated By Slow Speed Of E.U. Decision-making

The U.S. is eager to see change in the E.U. Commission's approval procedure, known as the 90/220 process. The U.S. is frustrated with what it calls the "effective collapse of the E.U.'s regulatory process for new genetically engineered plants and an incomplete and unworkable food labeling regulation for foods containing genetically modified corn and soybeans," said Peter L. Scher of the Special Trade Negotiator Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, on March 15. The lack of a specific time frame is also worrying the U.S. government, which has criticized Europe for the time it's taking to make a detailed and definite regulatory decision on GMOs. Under the E.U.'s 90/220 process, scientific reviews take years while equivalent U.S. scientific reviews take only months, the sources said. The U.S. is looking for a proper way to tackle the issue and define its position ahead of WTO meetings in Geneva in May and in Seattle in November. In a move to help dialogue between the U.S. and !
E.U. member countries, the group of U.S. experts will next stop in Italy, Germany and Belgium for round table discussions involving European farmers and food industry representatives. U.S. officials said that European consumers' reluctance to accept food made with genetically modified produce stems from scare-mongering by Europe's media and ineffective public relations strategies by firms like Monsanto. Many large E.U. food retailers, including France's Carrefour SA, have banned the use of genetically modified ingredients in own-brand products in response to consumer fears. The sources noted that French retailers who took part in a separate round-table talk on Monday voiced concern over the lack of definition as to what GMO-free food really is.


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