World Trade Organization Biotech Decision Expected Soon, U.S. Says -- possibly Wednesday, 1 February

January 30, 2006

Washington, Jan 2006

A preliminary decision by a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel on the U.S. challenge of the European Union (EU) moratorium on approvals for crops derived from biotechnology is expected around February 1, a U.S. trade official said.

The WTO decision was postponed twice, in August 2005 and early January 2006, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative official told reporters in a January 26 teleconference.

Argentina and Canada joined the United States in challenging the EU moratorium, which was imposed in 1998.

A WTO decision in favor of the United States would allow countries to sell large amounts of processed foods containing biotech ingredients to EU countries, the official said. Biotech products are commonly known in Europe as genetically modified (GM).

The United States brought its challenge to the WTO in 2003, saying the moratorium was an unfair trade restriction causing "unnecessary delays" in Europe's accepting U.S. crop exports, the trade official said.  (See related article .)

"For years, the United States refrained from bringing the WTO case because the EU continually assured us that the moratorium would soon be lifted. But the EU was not able to overcome its internal political pressures and lift the moratorium," according to a fact sheet from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Approximately half of the maize grown in the United States is from biotech seeds, the USTR official said. U.S. consumers have been safely consuming nutritious foods that contain biotech ingredients for a decade, the fact sheet states.

The loss of agricultural sales to Europe because of the ban amounts to "several hundred millions of dollars" annually, according to the official.

Once a preliminary decision is issued, all relevant parties will have a chance to review and comment on it. The WTO then will issue a final decision on the approval challenge in late 2006 or early 2007, the official said.

Also at issue is the EU moratorium on accepting new varieties of biotech seed.

Although EU scientists have found no safety risks on approximately half of the biotech products they have examined, some members of European Commission still have concerns about the safety of these products.  The commission proposes legislation and is responsible for the implementation of EU treaties and decisions.

The European regulatory system is inconsistent with how other countries regulate agricultural products that use science to determine a product's safety, the official said.

The United States believes the EU moratorium is based on "political expediency" more than on health or safety concerns, USTR says.

The fact sheet on agricultural biotechnology is available at the USTR Web site.  See also the October 2005 State Department electronic journal, The Promise of Biotechnology .

For more information on U.S. trade and economic policy, see USA and the WTO .

US Department of State
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