In a move cheered by many U.S. farm groups, the U.S. and several allies announced this week they will file a complaint against the European Union (EU) over its illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products. The U.S. has lined up support in filing the World Trade Organi-zation (WTO) case from Argentina, Canada and Egypt, and several other countries have expressed support as third parties to the case. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman made the announcement at a mid-week press conference.
"The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules. People around the world have been eating biotech food for years," said Zoellick. "We've waited patiently for five years for the EU to follow the WTO rules and the recommendations of the European Commission, so as to respect safety findings based on careful science. The EU's persistent resistance to abiding by its WTO obligations has perpetuated a trade barrier unwarranted by the EC's own scientific analysis, which impedes the global use of a technology that could be of great benefit to farmers and consumers around the world." Zoelick said he has noticed in his recent travels a slowing in the use of beneficial biotechnology and that developing countries have already suffered negative consequences from the EU's illegal ban.
"This case is about playing by the rules negotiated in good faith," said Veneman. "Biotechnology helps farmers increase yields, lower pesticide use, improve conservation and helps reduce hunger and poverty around the world. Farmers here and elsewhere must be assured that their crops won't be unfairly rejected simply because they were produced using biotechnology."
Before 1999, the EU approved nine agriculture biotech products for planting or import. It then suspended consideration of all new applications for approval, and has offered no scientific evidence for this moratorium on new approvals. Numerous organizations, researchers and scientists have determined that biotech foods pose no threat to humans or the environment. The first step in a WTO dispute is to request and conduct consultations in the next 60 days. If at the end of the 60 days, no resolution has been achieved, then the U.S. and the cooperating countries may seek the formation of a dispute settlement panel to hear arguments.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had put intense pressure on several administration officials in recent weeks to announce they would pursue a WTO complaint. "The Administration is standing up for America's farmers against a misguided policy based on politics, not science. The moratorium violates the requirements stating that the food and agricultural laws of WTO members must be founded on science. The EU's policies are blocking Iowa farmers' biotech products from the European market. These are products that E.U. officials admit are perfectly safe. This situation is unfair, and we have to challenge it. It's sad that leaders of southern African countries with starving populations have rejected U.S. food aid of biotech products due to fears of losing export markets in Europe.
House Ag Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) praised the action, stating, "It is not the role of governments to deny consumers choice." He added in a written statement that the WTO case will send a message to the rest of the world that illegitimate, non-science based trade barriers will not be tolerated. Fact sheets can be obtained from USDA's Web site: www.usda.gov