GENET archive


6-Regulation: Confusion about WTO case against EU GMO regulation

genet-news mailing list

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  No US decision on EU biotech trade case - USDA aide
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   Feb 24, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

No US decision on EU biotech trade case - USDA aide

WASHINGTON - Amid conflicting signals from the Bush administration,
Washington remains undecided about whether to file a trade complaint
against the European Union for refusing to approve new genetically
modified foods, a top U.S. Agriculture Department official said.

"No decision has been made one way or the other," said David Hegwood,
special trade adviser at USDA.

The Washington Post in Friday's editions cited a U.S. Embassy official in
London saying there had been a decision "made at a high level of
government" not to bring a World Trade Organization complaint against the
European Union.

The official, Peter Kurz, was interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corp.

The remark was in contrast to a statement by Agriculture Secretary Ann
Veneman on Thursday, who said U.S. patience was "growing very thin" with
the EU. The United States, she added, needed to take "very strong action"
against the EU's biotech policy.

Veneman did not say that a WTO trade complaint would be initiated.

Early this year, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick spoke
forcefully in favor of filing a trade complaint against Europe.

But a few weeks ago, congressional sources and U.S. agriculture industry
officials said the Bush administration had apparently put off a decision
to file the WTO complaint against the EU because it did not want to
further strain relations with Europe in the event of war with Iraq.

There is broad support within the U.S. Congress and among agriculture
groups for filing a complaint. It is estimated that U.S. farmers lose
around $300 million a year in sales to the EU because of its refusal to
allow new types of biotech crops in.

About 70 percent of U.S. soybeans and one-third of U.S. corn is grown
from genetically modified seeds.

Hegwood, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an annual USDA
agriculture outlook conference, would not provide any timetable for a
decision on the trade dispute.

Asked about Kurz's remarks that a case would not be filed, Hegwood said,
"He's got no basis for saying that." He added that Kurz was "not privy to
all the discussions that may be taking place in Washington."

The EU is arguing that it is on the verge of restarting its approvals
process for biotech foods and pharmaceuticals and now would be the wrong
time for Washington to go to court on the four-year-old moratorium.

But Bush administration officials and American agriculture are skeptical
that the EU will actually open its market to biotech goods and they fret
the EU moratorium is encouraging other countries to block biotech goods.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Words Stir Confusion in Trade Fight U.S. Officials' Comments On
        Biotech Foods Differ
SOURCE: The Washington Post, USA, by Justin Gillis
DATE:   Feb 21, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

Words Stir Confusion in Trade Fight U.S. Officials' Comments On Biotech
Foods Differ

The government sent conflicting signals yesterday about its plans for
suing Europe in the World Trade Organization over gene-altered food,
sowing doubt about just what policy the administration intends to pursue
in one of the world's most contentious trade issues.

In remarks during a conference in Crystal City, Agriculture Secretary Ann
M. Veneman gave the impression the administration is moving forward with
plans for a trade suit, saying "very strong action" is warranted to
counter European resistance to genetically engineered crops, which
American farmers have planted on millions of acres.

But in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., an agricultural
officer at the U.S. Embassy in London, Peter O. Kurz, declared that a
decision had been "made at a high level of government" to drop plans for
a trade case.

The conflicting remarks left American farm interests and the
biotechnology industry scrambling yesterday to figure out whether there
had been a change in the government's plans. The Bush administration has
been saying for weeks it is likely to file suit against governments of
the European Union, and while a final decision by the White House was
delayed just after the space shuttle disaster, most groups following the
issue had assumed the holdup would be temporary and a case would be filed

U.S. trade officials declined to comment further, saying they were
awaiting direction from the White House. Several agricultural groups also
declined to comment.

Representatives for two producer groups, speaking on the condition of
anonymity, said they would wait briefly for the administration to clarify
its intentions before making any critical remarks. But they made it clear
that if the government backs off plans for a suit, or wavers further, a
vigorous reaction can be expected from American farmers, who feel they
are losing hundreds of millions a year in exports because of European
resistance to gene-altered crops.

Farm groups have been pressing for months for a biotech trade case. At
the same time, agriculture ministers in Europe and some trade strategists
in Washington have argued that it makes no sense to introduce a new
irritation into U.S.-European relations when the nation is seeking
European support in its confrontation with Iraq.

The issue appeared to be near resolution several weeks ago, when Robert
B. Zoellick, the nation's top trade ambassador, called the European
stance on gene-altered food a "Luddite" reluctance to embrace new
technology. Zoellick said then he intended to file a trade suit.

In response to a question yesterday at the Agricultural Outlook Forum, in
Crystal City, Veneman said that "our patience is growing very thin on
this issue." She continued: "So I have had many discussions with
Ambassador Zoellick. We are both of the position that we need to take
very strong action, and we are working in the interagency process to
determine what action that will be and what the timing will be."

But Kurz, the agricultural attaché, speaking to the BBC in London, said
the plan for a trade case had been dropped. "I suppose the idea was we
don't need further trade irritants," he said.

Most analysts have said the government would be in a strong legal
position if it filed a case, since trade restrictions that purport to be
based on health concerns, like a European moratorium on biotech crops,
must be backed up by scientific evidence. There is little such evidence
to suggest that gene-altered foods pose any kind of health threat.

Even if the United States won a trade suit, the World Trade Organization
would have no means to force Europe to accept biotech food. Instead, it
would probably grant the United States the right to impose punitive
tariffs on European agricultural products.