"U.S. Contests Europe's Ban on Some Food."
The New York Times, May 14, 2003
New York Times
May 14, 2003
U.S. Contests Europe's Ban on Some Food
By ELIZABETH BECKER
WASHINGTON, May 13 - The Bush administration filed suit today at the World
Trade Organization to force Europe to lift its ban on genetically modified
food, a move that was postponed earlier this year by the debate on Iraq.
The suit will further heighten trans-Atlantic trade tensions after several
recent rulings against the United States in cases brought by Europe at the
W.T.O. over United States steel tariffs and tax shelters for overseas corporations.
The administration was backed by the speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert
of Illinois, and other senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have
been promoting the lawsuit for months. American farmers have led the complaints,
saying they have invested in the technology needed to raise genetically
modified crops only to see one of the biggest markets - Europe - closed
to their products.
Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, said the administration
had run out of patience waiting for the European Union to lift what he called
a five-year-old moratorium that blocked several hundred million dollars
of American exports into Europe. Worse, he said, European attitudes were
spreading unfounded fears in the developing world, where the need is greatest
for the increased yield of genetically modified crops.
"In developing countries, these crops can spell the difference between
life and death," he said. "The human cost of rejecting this new
technology is enormous."
Mr. Hastert estimated that American farmers lost $300 million in corn exports
each year because of the European policy toward genetically modified food
and animal feed.
"There's no question in my mind that the European Union's protectionist,
discriminatory trade policies are costing American agriculture and our nation's
economy hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year," Mr. Hastert
But European officials said today that they were dumbfounded by the suit.
They said there was no moratorium on genetically modified food.
"The U.S. claims that there is a so-called moratorium, but the fact
is that the E.U. has authorized G.M. varieties in the past and is currently
processing applications," said Pascal Lamy, the top European trade
official. "So what is the real U.S. motive in bringing a case?"
In practice, the Europeans did have an informal moratorium on new varieties
of genetically modified food from 1998 until last year, when the E.U. instituted
a new regulatory system that has approved two applications, with others
At the center of the debate over genetically modified crops, if not the
suit filed today, is a growing disagreement between the United States and
Europe over what steps are necessary to protect public health and the environment.
European consumers are far more wary of genetically modified food than are
Americans, and many object to what they consider aggressive American promotion
of those foods, influenced by agribusiness.
The European Union is demanding that genetically modified food be labeled
as such. They also want to be able to trace the origins of the food's ingredients
and are near completion of new legislation to require both.
The United States opposes such labels and tracing mechanisms, saying they
are too costly and impractical.
Margot Wallstrom, the European environmental commissioner, said the European
legislature would complete its measure to require labeling and methods for
tracing food and animal feed that is genetically modified.
"This U.S. move is unhelpful," she said. "It can only make
an already difficult debate in Europe more difficult."
The United States agriculture secretary, Ann M. Veneman, said today that
the case was aimed at protecting American farmers and ranchers.
"With this case," she said, "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 W.T.O. obligations."
The United States was joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt. Australia,
Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay
expressed support as third parties without direct commercial interest.
Many of these countries are in negotiations with the United States for a
free trade agreement.
Chile is waiting for the administration to sign off on its accord after
a delay driven in part by disappointment that it refused to side with the
United States on the war with Iraq at the United Nations.
Mr. Zoellick promised European officials last week that trade would bring
the allies together after the arguments over Iraq, not further separate
But trade is becoming a divisive issue, especially since the end of the
European officials lashed back at the administration today, refusing to
be blamed for blocking genetically modified food aid and reminding the United
States that it had refused to join 100 other countries and sign the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety. That agreement sets out rules for exporters and importers
of genetically modified crops to provide the proper information about the
food and feed.
Nonprofit groups opposed to the W.T.O.'s influence said the case showed
how globalization undermined local and national governments.
"The people eating the food or living in the environment that could
be affected must decide domestic policy, not some secretive W.T.O. tribunal
of three trade experts," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's
Global Trade Watch.
But several African farmers and scientists at a news conference here joined
Mr. Zoellick and Ms. Veneman in praising the American action.
"We believe it is better to give a person food to eat today than wait
10 years to be sure it is safe," said Darin Makinde, dean of the school
of agriculture at the University of Venda in South Africa.
"Two elephants are fighting - the United States and Europe - and it
is Africa that is suffering," he said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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