"United States v. European Union," by USTR Robert Zoellick

May 22, 2003

Washington, 21 May 2003

(This column by Robert B. Zoellick, who is the U.S. Trade Representative, was first published May 21 in The Wall Street Journal. The column is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)

The U.S. -- joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt, and supported by nine other countries -- last week asked the European Union to lift its moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products, in accordance with the rules of the World Trade Organization.

The world stands on the threshold of an agricultural revolution. The science of biotechnology can make crops more resistant to disease, pests and drought. By boosting yields, biotechnology can increase farmers' productivity and lower the cost of food for consumers. It can help the environment by reducing pesticide use and preventing soil erosion.

And new crops offer the promise of something greater still: foods fortified with nutrients that could help stem disease -- including saving the eyesight of over 500,000 children who go blind each year because they lack Vitamin A. Where food is scarce, or climates harsh, increased agricultural productivity could spell the difference between life and death, between health and disease for millions. Biotech rice, for example, is twice as resistant to drought and sal****er, while withstanding temperatures about 10 degrees lower than other varieties.

For almost five years, the EU has violated its own rules and procedures -- and disregarded the advice of its scientific committees and commissioners -- by arresting action on applications for biotech food products. This moratorium violates the EU's basic WTO obligations to maintain a food approval process that is based on "sufficient scientific evidence" and that acts without "undue delay."

Some Europeans have asked why the U.S. and its 12 partners would not wait longer. Yet the European commissioners working to lift the moratorium are the hostages of their member states. As Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom concluded last October: "I have stopped guessing when the moratorium would be lifted.... [S]ome member states are opposed ... and will try to move the goal posts." We stopped guessing, too.

As we have waited patiently for European leaders to step forward to deploy reason and science, the EU moratorium has sent a devastating signal to developing countries that stand to benefit most from innovative agricultural technologies. This dangerous effect of the EU's moratorium became evident last fall, when some famine-stricken African countries refused U.S. food aid because of fabricated fears -- stoked by irresponsible rhetoric -- about food safety.

As a major importer of food, Europe's decisions ripple far beyond its borders. Uganda refused to plant a disease-resistant type of banana because of fears it would jeopardize exports to Europe. Namibia will not buy South Africa's biotech corn for cattle feed to avoid hurting its beef exports to Europe. India, China and other countries in South America and Africa have expressed the same trepidation. "Thirty-four percent of the children [in Africa] are malnourished," says Dr. Diran Makinde of the University of Venda in South Africa. Yet Africans are told of biotech crops: "Don't touch them."

For five years, the world has waited patiently, assured by European officials that a change in policy is "just around the corner." But around every corner we have found a new roadblock. First, we were asked to wait until new biotech approval regulations were drafted. Then it was to wait for a labeling scheme, then for rules on legal liability, and then for new regulations on where biotech crops can and cannot be planted.

While Europe has added barrier after barrier to fight fictions, biotechnology has demonstrated benefit after benefit based on facts. "No till" biotech farming has reduced soil erosion by one billion tons a year. Over the past eight years, biotech cotton and corn have reduced pesticide use by 46 million pounds of active ingredients. The Chinese Academy of Science estimates biotech could reduce China's pesticide use by 80%.

Overwhelming scientific research shows that biotech foods are safe and healthy -- a conclusion that the EU's own Directorate-General for Research reached two years ago. The National Academies of Science and Medicine in France concur. So do the Scientific Academies of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. Dr. C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee University presented me with a statement signed by more than 3,200 scientists world-wide, including 20 Nobel laureates, supporting agricultural biotechnology.

Some claim that we are "forcing" biotech foods on European consumers. Yet all we ask is for consumers to have the right to make their own decisions, a right they are now denied because the EU is blocking access to foods that EU regulators and scientific associations acknowledge are safe. The legal case for biotechnology is clear, the science overwhelming, and the humanitarian call to action compelling. We hope this debate will lead the EU to finally lift its moratorium without imposing new barriers.

(Mr. Zoellick is the U.S. Trade Representative.)
(The Wall Street Journal 05/21/03 op-ed) (850)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Office of the US Trade Representative via the US Department of State International Information Program
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