WTO case against EU's moratorium on commercial release of GMOs: Commission answers parliamentary question

February 13, 2004

Strasbourg, 12 February 2004

Verbatim report of proceedings on 12 February, Part A

Question no 66 by Patricia McKenna (H-0012/04)
Subject: GMOs and the WTO

The USA, Canada and Argentina have decided to challenge Europe over the moratorium on commercial GM releases at the WTO. With regard to the Cartagena Protocol does the Commission not find such a challenge unfounded, and can it guarantee that despite such a challenge, individual Member States will be assured of their continued right to ban the import of GM crops?

Answer
With regard to the Honourable Member.s question on the link between the World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenge on the Union.s authorisation system for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM food and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Commission views this Protocol as a very important development, being the first international legally binding agreement on the trade of genetically modified goods.

The Protocol establishes an Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) procedure for imports of living modified organisms (LMOs) intended for deliberate release into the environment and lays down detailed information and documentation requirements.

The relationship between the Protocol and trade agreements is addressed by the last three recitals of the Preamble. They recall the concept of mutual supportiveness between trade and environment, that rights and obligations of Parties under international law remain unchanged and that the Protocol is not subordinated to other international agreements.

The Cartagena Protocol could not be used to justify a general ban on import of GM crops. However, the precautionary approach could be invoked in order to delay, suspend or refuse the import of GMOs, to the extent that an assessment establishes the "lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge" on the potential adverse effects of specific GMOs on biodiversity in the Party of Import, taking also into account risks to human health.

Finally, it is important to recall that the Protocol allows the Parties to apply more stringent rules. The Union has over the last years developed a regulatory regime to ensure that GMOs are only put on the market on the basis of a careful assessment of risks. Under the existing Community regulatory framework, individual bans at Member States level on GM imports could not be justified. However, in some specific circumstances Member States can introduce temporary safeguard measures on GMOs or GM food, which are then subject to a Community decision on the merits.

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