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WTO: U.S., Canada Lodge Complaints Over Rapid Rise in Genetic , Labelling

International Trade Reporter / Volume 16 Number 24
Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Page 1006 ISSN 1523-2816 World News

WTO:  U.S., Canada Lodge Complaints Over Rapid Rise in Genetic Labeling

GENEVA--The United States and Canada expressed concerns to the World Trade
Organization about the increased use of mandatory labeling measures for
genetically modified foods. 

U.S. officials told a June 11 meeting of the WTO's Committee on Technical
Barriers to Trade that five new GMO-related measures have been adopted by
countries in the first five months of 1999 alone, compared with five for
all of 1997-98 and only one during 1995-96. 

Canada complained about recent measures proposed by the governments of
Australia and New Zealand on labeling requirements for genetically
modified foods, measures that Canada claims will apply to foods that are
no different, essentially, from their conventional counterparts. 

Brazilian officials also told the committee that internal preparatory
discussions were now under way on its own GMO-labeling proposal. And India
said all genetically altered food exported to developing nations that do
not have adequate laboratory resources should be labeled. 

The two North American countries have criticized the adoption of GMO
labeling plans, arguing the labels are a potential barrier to trade and
that there is no scientific justification for treating genetically
modified foods differently from conventional foods. 

The two countries are particularly critical of European Council Regulation
1139/98, which entered into force last year requiring products containing
modified corn and soybeans to carry information on the food label or
ingredient list stating that the product contains genetically modified
material. Washington and Ottawa claim that their exports of corn and
soybeans to the EU are being adversely affected by the labeling

At the June 11 meeting, Canada charged that the EU measure was not based
on a clear rationale and said it was still not satisfied with the EU's
response to its concerns. 

Canada and the United States could take their complaints to a WTO dispute
settlement panel, but trade officials in Geneva say that is highly
unlikely given the political sensitivity of the issue. They indicated this
was particularly so in light of the EU's recent decision to halt approval
proceedings for bt maize seeds due to the potential threat to monarch
butterflies, as well as concerns about European foods such as "mad cow" 
disease and dioxin contamination of Belgian poultry and eggs. 

Codex Venue

EU officials responded that their consumers were increasingly concerned
about the health and environmental risks from GMOs and that there was
strong demand for additional information on GMO food products. The EU also
said that while it was willing to continue bilateral negotiations with
Canada on the measure, it remained committed to the labeling requirements. 

The United States is proposing that WTO members work together on
developing global GMO standards through the Codex Alimentarius, a body set
up in 1962 by the U.N.'s World Health Organization and Food and
Agricultural Organization to establish international recommendations on
food safety.  Codex standards are recognized under the WTO's Agreement on
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures as the basis upon which members may
impose restrictions on food imports for health and safety reasons. 

An FAO official told the WTO that Codex will consider whether to establish
a new committee on GMOs at its next commission meeting scheduled to take
place in Rome June 28-July 3. 

Norwegian officials agreed with the EU on the need to promote consumer
confidence in foods through transparent labeling arrangements. They
pointed out that Norway had notified the committee of its own GMO-labeling
measure in August 1997. 

In other action at the meeting of the WTO's Committee on Technical
Barriers to Trade: 

Canada and the United States criticized the EU June 11 for a draft
proposal that would ban the use of batteries containing cadmium. Canada
urged the EU to await the results of an ongoing Belgian risk assessment on
products using cadmium-based batteries and called on Brussels to work with
non-EU countries on developing alternative approaches to a ban. The United
States also called on the EU to consider alternatives to a ban, such as
increased collections of used batteries. 

The two countries also reiterated their criticisms on a proposed EU
directive that would require companies that sell electronic equipment such
as computers, stereos, and televisions to either set up their own
take-back systems for recycling their goods or to contribute financially
to a local recovery program for electronic waste. The United States argues
that the take-back obligation will be burdensome for foreign electronic
firms that are not physically located in the EU. Canada said it is also
concerned about provisions in the directive that would restrict the use of
nonferrous metals in such products. 

The EU replied that both proposals were still in the drafting stage and
that changes to them may still be made before adoption. 

The EU raised objections to a Japanese law on the classification of marine
engines for fishing vessels. The law, which was adopted in 1950 and
amended in 1997, harms EU exports by indexing engines according to size
rather than power, Brussels charged. The EU also said Japan had no basis
for a claim made during bilateral discussions that the size categorization
was justified on the grounds of protecting fish stocks. 

Copyright  1999 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.

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