GENET archive


6-Regulation: U.S. files WTO case against EU GMO moratorium -NYTimes

genet-news mailing list

-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  U.S. Contests Europe's Ban on Some Food
SOURCE: The New York Times, USA, by Elizabeth Becker
DATE:   May 14, 2003

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

U.S. Contests Europe's Ban on Some Food

WASHINGTON, May 13 - The Bush administration filed suit today at the
World Trade Organization to force Europe to lift its ban on genetically
modified food, a move that was postponed earlier this year by the debate
on Iraq.

The suit will further heighten trans-Atlantic trade tensions after
several recent rulings against the United States in cases brought by
Europe at the W.T.O. over United States steel tariffs and tax shelters
for overseas corporations.

The administration was backed by the speaker of the House, J. Dennis
Hastert of Illinois, and other senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers
who have been promoting the lawsuit for months. American farmers have led
the complaints, saying they have invested in the technology needed to
raise genetically modified crops only to see one of the biggest markets -
Europe - closed to their products.

Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, said the
administration had run out of patience waiting for the European Union to
lift what he called a five-year-old moratorium that blocked several
hundred million dollars of American exports into Europe. Worse, he said,
European attitudes were spreading unfounded fears in the developing
world, where the need is greatest for the increased yield of genetically
modified crops.

"In developing countries, these crops can spell the difference between
life and death," he said. "The human cost of rejecting this new
technology is enormous."

Mr. Hastert estimated that American farmers lost $300 million in corn
exports each year because of the European policy toward genetically
modified food and animal feed.

"There's no question in my mind that the European Union's protectionist,
discriminatory trade policies are costing American agriculture and our
nation's economy hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year,"
Mr. Hastert said.

But European officials said today that they were dumbfounded by the suit.
They said there was no moratorium on genetically modified food.

"The U.S. claims that there is a so-called moratorium, but the fact is
that the E.U. has authorized G.M. varieties in the past and is currently
processing applications," said Pascal Lamy, the top European trade
official. "So what is the real U.S. motive in bringing a case?"

In practice, the Europeans did have an informal moratorium on new
varieties of genetically modified food from 1998 until last year, when
the E.U. instituted a new regulatory system that has approved two
applications, with others pending.

At the center of the debate over genetically modified crops, if not the
suit filed today, is a growing disagreement between the United States and
Europe over what steps are necessary to protect public health and the

European consumers are far more wary of genetically modified food than
are Americans, and many object to what they consider aggressive American
promotion of those foods, influenced by agribusiness.

The European Union is demanding that genetically modified food be labeled
as such. They also want to be able to trace the origins of the food's
ingredients and are near completion of new legislation to require both.

The United States opposes such labels and tracing mechanisms, saying they
are too costly and impractical.

Margot Wallstrom, the European environmental commissioner, said the
European legislature would complete its measure to require labeling and
methods for tracing food and animal feed that is genetically modified.

"This U.S. move is unhelpful," she said. "It can only make an already
difficult debate in Europe more difficult."

The United States agriculture secretary, Ann M. Veneman, said today that
the case was aimed at protecting American farmers and ranchers.

"With this case," she said, "we are fighting for the interests of
American agriculture. This case is about playing by the rules negotiated
in good faith. The European Union has failed to comply with its W.T.O.

The United States was joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt. Australia,
Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and
Uruguay expressed support as third parties without direct commercial interest.

Many of these countries are in negotiations with the United States for a
free trade agreement.

Chile is waiting for the administration to sign off on its accord after a
delay driven in part by disappointment that it refused to side with the
United States on the war with Iraq at the United Nations.

Mr. Zoellick promised European officials last week that trade would bring
the allies together after the arguments over Iraq, not further separate them.

But trade is becoming a divisive issue, especially since the end of the war.

European officials lashed back at the administration today, refusing to
be blamed for blocking genetically modified food aid and reminding the
United States that it had refused to join 100 other countries and sign
the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. That agreement sets out rules for
exporters and importers of genetically modified crops to provide the
proper information about the food and feed.

Nonprofit groups opposed to the W.T.O.'s influence said the case showed
how globalization undermined local and national governments.

"The people eating the food or living in the environment that could be
affected must decide domestic policy, not some secretive W.T.O. tribunal
of three trade experts," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's
Global Trade Watch.

But several African farmers and scientists at a news conference here
joined Mr. Zoellick and Ms. Veneman in praising the American action.

"We believe it is better to give a person food to eat today than wait 10
years to be sure it is safe," said Darin Makinde, dean of the school of
agriculture at the University of Venda in South Africa.

"Two elephants are fighting - the United States and Europe - and it is
Africa that is suffering," he said.