WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out February 1 (30/1/2006)

Just so you know what's coming, these items were all in today's bulletin from Prakash's pro-GM AgbioView list. Most, as you'll see, originate with US officials.

*WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out February 1
*WTO Biotech Decision Expected Soon, U.S. Says
*Foreign Trade Barriers

Note the contrasting comments:

"The United States is not telling European consumers what products to eat... European consumers have the decision whether or not to buy them" - US official (item 1)

"A WTO decision in favor of the United States would allow [GM producing] countries to sell large amounts of processed foods containing biotech ingredients to EU countries, the official said." (item 2)

Iem 3 is suggestive as to the US's next WTO challenge:

"The labeling requirements include an obligation to label appropriate products genetically modified... these burdensome directives have already severely restricted market access for U.S. food suppliers... The Directives generally are anticipated to have a negative impact on a wide range of U.S. exports, including processed food exports." - Office of the United States Trade Representative

WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out February 1
- Agence France Presse, Jan 26,2006

The United States expects the WTO to issue its biggest-ever arbitration report next week on a US-led complaint against the European Union over biotech foods, officials said Thursday. The preliminary report of the World Trade Organisation in the long-running genetically modified (GM) foods case is set to be issued on Wednesday, a US trade official said.

"We believe we've presented a strong case," he told reporters on condition of anonymity. Explaining numerous delays in the report's publication, the official said: "They've told us it'll be the longest report in the history of the WTO system. It'll be hundreds and hundreds of pages."

Argentina, Canada and the United States brought the complaint before the WTO in May 2003, stating that an EU moratorium on GM foods was more about business protectionism than concerns about the health of consumers or the environment.

The EU moratorium was lifted in May 2004, but the three countries did not withdraw their complaint because they claim EU member states continue to block the import and cultivation of biotech foods. "The obligations are to allow every (GM) application to be reviewed under science and to be processed without undue delay. Right now, Europe's just not doing that," the US official said.

"The United States is not telling European consumers what products to eat. Europe has to meet its obligations to follow its own approval procedures. European consumers have the decision whether or not to buy them," he added.

WTO Biotech Decision Expected Soon, U.S. Says
- Kathryn McConnell, USINFO.State.Gov, January 27, 2006

Washington -- A preliminary decision by a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel on the U.S. challenge of the European Union (EU) moratorium on approvals for crops derived from biotechnology is expected around February 1, a U.S. trade official said.

The WTO decision was postponed twice, in August 2005 and early January 2006, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative official told reporters in a January 26 teleconference. Argentina and Canada joined the United States in challenging the EU moratorium, which was imposed in 1998.

A WTO decision in favor of the United States would allow countries to sell large amounts of processed foods containing biotech ingredients to EU countries, the official said. Biotech products are commonly known in Europe as genetically modified (GM).

The United States brought its challenge to the WTO in 2003, saying the moratorium was an unfair trade restriction causing "unnecessary delays" in Europe's accepting U.S. crop exports, the trade official said. (See related article.)

"For years, the United States refrained from bringing the WTO case because the EU continually assured us that the moratorium would soon be lifted. But the EU was not able to overcome its internal political pressures and lift the moratorium," according to a fact sheet from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Approximately half of the maize grown in the United States is from biotech seeds, the USTR official said. U.S. consumers have been safely consuming nutritious foods that contain biotech ingredients for a decade, the fact sheet states.

The loss of agricultural sales to Europe because of the ban amounts to "several hundred millions of dollars" annually, according to the official.

Once a preliminary decision is issued, all relevant parties will have a chance to review and comment on it. The WTO then will issue a final decision on the approval challenge in late 2006 or early 2007, the official said. Also at issue is the EU moratorium on accepting new varieties of biotech seed.

Although EU scientists have found no safety risks on approximately half of the biotech products they have examined, some members of European Commission still have concerns about the safety of these products. The commission proposes legislation and is responsible for the implementation of EU treaties and decisions.

The European regulatory system is inconsistent with how other countries regulate agricultural products that use science to determine a product's safety, the official said.

The United States believes the EU moratorium is based on "political expediency" more than on health or safety concerns, USTR says.

Foreign Trade Barriers - Agricultural Biotechnology
- Excerpts from
http://www.ustr.gov/ (2005)

Since 1998, it has proved impossible to assemble in the European Council a qualified majority of EU Member States in support of agricultural biotechnology product approvals, despite the lack of any legitimate health or safety reason to reject them. Therefore, after lengthy periods of consideration by the Council, in each case, approval applications have been sent back to the College of Commissioners for final adjudication. The Commission subsequently did approve these applications, the first in the EU since the 1998 approvals moratorium took hold.

In May 2003, the United States initiated a WTO dispute settlement process related to the EU’s de facto moratorium on approvals of biotechnology products and on the existence of individual Member State marketing prohibitions on previously approved biotechnology products. Since that time, an initial round of consultations was held, followed by the formation of a panel to consider the case.

In accordance with DG Agriculture's guidance document on the co-existence of biotechnology and conventional crops, which recommends a regional approach to co-existence issues, a number of Member States, including Denmark, Germany, and three regions in Austria, have drafted new co-existence laws. These laws have taken a maximalist approach, requiring extensive liability systems be put in place and mandating extremely low thresholds for the presence of material derived from biotechnology. Once enacted, the European Commission may initiate infringement proceedings against a Member State's co-existence law if it is judged to be incompatible with EU law. However, there is no time limit on how quickly the Commission must act.

Traceability and Labeling:

In April 2004, EC Regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003 governing the approval, traceability and labeling of biotechnology food and feed became effective. The regulations include mandatory traceability and labeling for all biotechnology and downstream products. Among the traceability rules are requirements that information that a product contains or consists of biotechnology products must be transmitted to each operator throughout the entire supply chain. Operators must have a standardized system in place to keep information about biotechnology products and to identify the operator by whom and to whom it was transferred for a period of five years from each transaction.

The labeling requirements include an obligation to label appropriate products genetically modified and to indicate if the food is different from its conventional counterpart in composition, nutritional value, intended use or health implications. U.S. exporters fear that the practical effect of such labeling requirements will be to drive EU consumers away from such products. In some cases, these burdensome directives have already severely restricted market access for U.S. food suppliers, because food producers have reformulated their products to not use biotechnology products in them. Food producers have indicated concern about needing to find expensive or limited alternatives. The Directives generally are anticipated to have a negative impact on a wide range of U.S. exports, including processed food exports.

Austria: Recent amendments to the Austrian Biotechnology Law allow, in principle, the planting of biotechnology crops. However, strict and complicated rules on liability and compensation still represent a de facto barrier against all EU-approved biotechnology crops. National ordinances effectively prevent the planting of EU-approved biotechnology crops. Under current Austrian rules, unapproved biotechnology events must not be detected in conventional seeds ("zero tolerance"), but EU-approved events may be present in conventional and organic seeds up to 0.1 percent.

Cyprus: Cyprus has adopted increasingly tough standards, which in some cases exceed EU requirements, regarding biotechnology organisms and products. Biotechnology products that are already licensed in the EU may circulate in Cyprus freely. However, biotechnology organisms must be approved, even if they are already licensed in other EU countries.

France: France is in the process of implementing the new EU Regulations on "Genetically Modified Food and Feed" and Traceability and Labeling. However, it is applying standards that go beyond the EU regulations, for example, requiring additional standards for non-biotechnology labeling. The French government plans to present biotechnology legislation to the French Parliament in early 2005. This bill will include provisions on biotechnology and non- biotechnology co-existence and a proposal to create a new French biotechnology committee to assess biotechnology products at the national level.

Germany: Germany has suspended the approvals for planting certain biotechnology crops. In November 2004, Germany passed its new version of a law related to biotechnology, which went into effect on January 1, 2005. This law contains strict regulations for liability and requires the creation of co-existence regulations. The new law is expected to hinder the importation, use, and development of agricultural biotechnology products. Some biotechnology companies have already decided to stop their agricultural research efforts in Germany.

Greece: Greece has not been responsive to applications to introduce bioengineered seeds for field tests, despite support for such tests by Greek farmers and Greece’s agricultural science community.

Hungary: Extensive biotechnology research is taking place in Hungary, and the Hungarian government has allowed field tests for herbicide resistant corn, wheat and other crops. Although Hungary is mandated to adopt all relevant EU biotech legislation, Hungary has not yet prepared the national application rules for the EU biotech regulations on food and feed and traceability and labeling. Hungary’s considerable grain and seed business will not open for biotech varieties in the near future.

Italy: There are varying positions on agricultural biotechnology among Italy’s Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Environment. The Ministry of Agriculture is trying to minimize the presence of material derived from biotechnology by imposing extremely rigorous thresholds for seed purity, which further threaten U.S. exports of conventional corn and soybean seed. The stated objective of the Ministry of Agriculture is to disallow any bioengineered presence in seeds.

In the case of soybeans used for animal feed, the Ministry of Agriculture allows imported biotechnology beans, since it is unable to meet Italian feed demand from non-biotechnology sources. Italy has not rescinded its ban on four EU-approved bioengineered corn varieties (BT11, MON 810, MON 809, and T25), though an Italian court revoked the decree in late November 2004. Also in November 2004 the Prime Minister’s cabinet passed a decree-law on the coexistence of biotechnology, non-biotechnology, and organic crops that bans biotechnology cultivation in Italy through Dec. 31, 2005, by which time each of Italy’s regions must devise a regional co-existence plan.

Luxembourg: A corn produced by Syngenta AG remains blocked from access to Luxembourg despite the product’s approval by the European Commission in 1997.

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