WASHINGTON - U.S.
Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman
today announced the United States, Argentina, Canada, and Egypt will file a
World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the European Union (EU) over its
illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products. Other
countries expressing support for this case by joining it as third parties
include: Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand,
Peru and Uruguay.
and Veneman at the Washington announcement were Dr. C.S. Prakash (organizer of a
pro-agricultural biotech declaration signed by 20 Nobel Laureates and over 3,200
scientists); T.J. Buthelezi, a small farmer of biotech crops from South Africa;
Dr. Diran Makinde, DVM, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Agriculture, University of
Venda for Science and Technology, South Africa; Dr. Ariel Alvarez-Morales,
Principal Scientist, Department of Plant Genetic Engineering, Center for
Research and Advanced Studies, Irapuato, Mexico; and, representatives from
countries participating in the case.
moratorium violates WTO rules. People around the world have been eating biotech
food for years. Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers
tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protects the
environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use," 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."
"With this case,
we are fighting for the interests of American agriculture. This case is about
playing by the rules negotiated in good faith. The European Union has failed to
comply with its WTO obligations," said Veneman. "Biotechnology is helping
farmers increase yields, lower pesticide use, improve soil conservation and
water pollution and help 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. The EU actions threaten
to deny the full development of a technology that holds enormous potential
benefits to both producers and consumers worldwide, while also providing a very
significant means to combat hunger and malnutrition that afflict hundreds of
millions of people across the developing world."
"The U.S. and the
EU have a large and important economic relationship, and disputes such as this,
while very important, make up only one part of that relationship. The United
States will continue to work with the EU to manage this and other disputes in an
appropriate way, and we look forward to advancing our shared objectives in the
Doha global trade negotiations and other fora," Zoellick added.
The WTO agreement
on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) recognizes that countries are
entitled to regulate crops and food products to protect health and the
environment. The WTO SPS agreement requires, however, that members have
"sufficient scientific evidence" for such measures, and that they operate their
approval procedures without "undue delay." Otherwise, there is a risk countries
may without justification use such regulations to thwart trade in safe,
wholesome, and nutritious products.
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. As EU Environment
Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said almost three years ago (July 13, 2000): "We
have already waited too long to act. The moratorium is illegal and not
justified...the value of biotechnology is poorly appreciated in
biotechnology is a continuation of the long tradition of agricultural innovation
that has provided the basis for rising prosperity for the past millennium.
Humankind has historically progressed in boosting agricultural productivity,
quality and choices by harnessing science to develop new forms of
More than 145
million acres (58 million hectares) of biotech crops were grown in the world in
2002 (check figure). Worldwide, about 45% of soy, 11% of corn, 20% of cotton and
11% of rapeseed are biotech crops. In the United States, 75% of soy, 34% of corn
and 71% of cotton are biotech crops.
organizations, researchers and scientists have determined that biotech foods
pose no threat to humans or the environment. Examples include the French Academy
of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the French Academy of Sciences, the 3,200
scientists who cosponsored a declaration on biotech foods and numerous
scientific studies including a joint study conducted by the seven national
academies of science (the National Academies of Science of the United States,
Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, plus the Royal Society of London and the Third
World Academy of Sciences).
In October 1998,
the EU stopped approving any new agriculture biotech products for planting or
import. This moratorium had no effect on any previously-approved products, such
as corn and soy, which are still used and are available in member countries, but
it froze the approval process in the EU. No biotech product has ever been
rejected for approval in the EU.
Since the late
1990's, the EU has pursued policies that undermine agricultural biotechnology
and trade in biotech foods. First, six member states (Austria, France, Germany,
Italy, Greece & Luxemburg) banned modified crops approved by the EU, and the
Commission refused to challenge the illegal bans. In 1998, member states began
blocking all new biotech applications. This approval moratorium is causing a
growing portion of U.S. agricultural exports to be excluded from EU markets and
unfairly casting concerns about biotech products around the world, particularly
in developing countries.
The first step in
a WTO dispute, which the United States and other countries are taking today, is
to request and conduct consultations in the next 60 days. WTO procedures are
designed to encourage parties to resolve their differences. 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. Dispute settlement procedures, including appeal, typically take a
total of 18 months.