On May 13 the US launched its much-awaited WTO action against the EU1. The Commission (on behalf of EU Member States) must now respond to the requests for consultations and then hold the first of the consultations within 30 days of the date of the complaint. Should the consultation procedure not produce a result within 60 days then the complainants (currently the US, Argentina, Canada and Egypt) can request that the WTO establishes a dispute panel and rules on the dispute.
The complaint centres on the 5-year moratorium that has existed within the EU concerning the approval of GM crops. Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Representative, said that "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."
Lyle Vanclief, the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, claims that during the five years that the moratorium on approving GM crops has been in place in the EU, the Canadian canola export market to the EU has shrunk from $185million to $1.5million. During this period US exports in maize and soya to the EU have also reduced significantly.
The EU's Response
The Commission have responded with a rebuttal document2 setting out why they consider the action taken by the US and others is misguided and unnecessary. Margaret Wallstrom, EU Commissioner for the Environment, commented that the US action would make the debate within Europe more difficult and distract the EU from putting into place the legislative framework which would give European consumers confidence in GMO-based products.
The Commission does not present any scientific evidence for the case against approving GM crops for release in the EU. Instead, it rejects the existence of such a moratorium, claiming that approvals of GM products have merely been delayed whilst an appropriate regulatory framework was put into place3 and a number of approvals are now being processed with several of these applications at "an advanced stage of examination".
The document briefly addresses some of the issues raised by the complainants. It claims that the EU has switched its maize importation from the US to Argentina and its soya importation from the US to Brazil simply because these South American countries grow EU approved varieties of such crops.
As predicted in our briefing...