- The top US trade official said on Thursday he was ready
to launch a World Trade Organisation challenge against the European Union
over its refusal to lift a de facto moratorium on the approval of new genetically-modified
- Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, said: "I
personally am of the view that we now need to bring a case." He called
the moratorium "a total violation of the WTO". A challenge to
European restrictions on genetically-modified products would be among the
most contentious issues yet to confront the WTO's dispute settlement process.
- Mr Zoellick's comments come after years of indecision,
during which two US administrations had weighed carefully whether a WTO
case would help to open global markets for bio-engineered foods or might
instead trigger a broader consumer backlash that would hurt US farmers.
- The US now looks likely to end that indecision, primarily
because of fears that Europe's opposition to bio-engineered foods is spreading
to Africa and Asia. Several African countries have rejected US food aid
shipments containing genetically modified crops, and Mr Zoellick charged
that some European countries had pressed Africa to reject the US aid.
- He called it "extremely disturbing" that "the
European anti-scientific policies are spreading to other corners of the
world". He said genetically modified crops were critical to help farmers
in poor countries grow crops under difficult conditions.
- An inter-agency group of senior US officials agreed last
month that the US should bring a WTO case unless Europe took concrete steps
to end the moratorium. A decision by the full US cabinet is likely this
- The EU has for more than four years maintained an effective
moratorium on approving new genetically modified crops, responding to consumer
and interest group pressures. The European Commission favours ending the
moratorium but failed to persuade member states late last year.
- The EU is also developing a new system for tracing and
labelling genetically modified foods, a scheme that the US argues would
permanently block the European market for many US foods
- The US won a similar case in 1997, in which the WTO ordered
Europe to lift a ban on imports of hormone- treated beef. The EU has so
far failed to implement the ruling. But Mr Zoellick said that, even though
the victory in the beef case did not open the European market for US exports,
it stopped similar bans from spreading to other countries.
- A WTO case is likely to upset US efforts to win European
co-operation in other areas, however. Mr Zoellick acknowledged yesterday
that the Doha Round of world trade negotiations is stalled while the EU
determines how much it is prepared to liberalise its agricultural sector.
- Pascal Lamy, the EU trade commissioner said, EU would
fight the US if it brought a WTO case over genetically modified crops.