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WTO condemns EU for barring GMO

WTO ruled that the EU and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 11:37 IST

The World Trade Organization ruled on Tuesday that the European Union and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods.

A US trade official confirmed findings of the preliminary ruling, contained in a confidential report sent only to the parties. The closely watched verdict addressed a complaint brought against the EU by leading GMO producers the United States, Argentina and Canada.

In a 1,000-page report, still being studied by government officials and lawyers, WTO trade judges found that the EU, whose consumers are deeply suspicious of GMOs, had applied an effective moratorium on GMO imports between June 1999 and August 2003. Moratoriums are barred under WTO rules.

It also found that six individual states -- France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece -- broke the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMOs, according to the US source.

"We're pleased with the outcome. We're not at the end of this road yet but the report is a significant milestone," said the US trade official, who asked not to be named.

Diplomats in Geneva said other parts of the WTO ruling, which also covered individual crops and foods, were more mixed, although they were still wading through the details.

The decision, which needs to be confirmed in a final ruling in a month's time, and can be appealed, did not surprise diplomats and industry watchers who had forecast the EU would come off worst in the long-running case.


The EU's opponents asserted that the moratorium, which Brussels argued was never officially declared, hurt their exports and was not based on science.

The biotech industry, including US companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical, had keenly awaited the ruling in hopes they it would let them boost GMO shipments to Europe.

"It seems to send a clear signal that any measures to protect animal, human and plant health have to be based on sound science," said Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International, representing the global plant science industry.

American farmers also cheered the finding, even though they noted that EU traceability and labelling regulations posed problems outside of the moratorium.

"We don't expect the EU to become big importers of US corn but (the moratorium) cast a big shadow across other nations. This is a message to the world that (we) won't put up with the EU violating the rules," said Len Corzine, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

US farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many US agricultural products, including most US corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets.

Trade sources also said the ruling would send a message to other WTO members, including some in Africa, which have been taking or are considering a similar line to that of the EU.

The WTO ruling only considered the period up to 2003, as Brussels again began authorizing imports of GMOs in May 2004. But only seven crops and foods have had the green light since then, and a number of member states have maintained individual bans.

US politicians welcomed the ruling and urged the European Union to immediately open its market to US genetically modified crops. Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican said it was good news that the WTO had based its decision on "sound science."

Europe's shoppers are famously wary of GMO products, often dubbed "Frankenstein foods" by European media. Opposition is estimated at more than 70 per cent, a stark contrast to the United States where the products are far more widely accepted.

Green groups were disappointed by the findings, but said they would have little impact.

Brussels, which has yet to comment, has long argued that because the moratorium is no longer in place, its policy of carefully scrutinizing any applications to import need not change.

"US agro-chemical giants will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain as a result of the WTO ruling," said Daniel Mittler, trade adviser at Greenpeace International.

First Published: Feb 08, 2006 11:37 IST