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US Again Threatens EU on Frankenfoods Moratorium

US Again Threatens EU on
Frankenfoods Moratorium

Financial Times (London)
December 18, 2001

US steps up pressure on Brussels over modified crops: Bush
administration warns that continued EU moratorium may escalate trade
dispute, write Edward Alden and Michael Mann

By EDWARD ALDEN and MICHAEL MANN

The Bush administration is stepping up pressure on the European
Commission to approve imports of a dozen crops made with genetically-
modified organisms, warning that a continuation of the moratorium
could escalate into a serious trade dispute.

Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, will raise the issue today
in meetings with senior EU officials including David Byrne, health
commissioner.

While the US remains extremely reluctant to launch a dispute
settlement case at the World Trade Organisation, there is a growing
belief in the government and the US agricultural industry that it may
be the only way to end the de facto ban. "The bottom line is the
Europeans have to show they have a workable system in place," said a
US industry official. "Otherwise it's a technical barrier to trade"
that violates WTO rules.

Any escalation in US pressure, however, risks triggering a backlash
among European governments and consumers. With European public trust
in food safety at a low ebb, no new GM crops have been approved by the
EU for more than three years.

Applications from biotechnology companies to sell 12 new varieties of
genetically-modified crops have remained in limbo despite being
declared safe by EU scientific advisers.

The US has become increasingly impatient since earlier this year when
many EU member states said they would not agree to lift the ban until
the EU implemented new labelling and traceability rules.

It will take at least two years before EU governments and the European
parliament can approve those rules, while the Bush administration has
protested that the proposals are discriminatory and unworkable.

"I think there is frustration and it's growing," said a senior US
official. "We have tried to separate the approval issue from the
traceability and labelling issue, but obviously the Europeans aren't
doing that."

Alan Larson, US undersecretary of state, warned in Brussels last week
prior to meetings with EU officials that it was "urgent for the EU to
find a way to move forward with the approval process".

While US pressure is increasing, Bush administration officials are
acutely aware that a WTO case could result in a pyrrhic victory that
the EU would refuse to enforce.

"We don't want another hormone situation on our hands, or to look like
we're shoving GMOs down their throats," the US official said. "On the
other hand we can't admit that we can't do anything."

The Commission itself is in an awkward position. In principle, it has
a legal duty to approve the products stuck in the system if member
governments fail to act, and many in the Commission want to see the
approvals go forward. But it also fears a public relations disaster if
it chooses to override the wishes of elected EU governments on such an
emotive issue.

"We've done everything we can. We've put proposals on the table as we
were asked to do," said a senior Commission official. "Forcing things
through isn't the approach we feel will unblock things. We're engaged
in a confidence-building exercise and consumers wouldn't understand.
In the long-run, it would just slow down the process of winning
people's confidence."

Asked whether the threat of a WTO panel would force the Commission
to change its mind, the official said: "No one thinks it's a good idea to
force products through against the wishes of member states, but I
can't prejudge what we'd do if someone was smashing us up against the
wall."


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