Blow to US as Egypt pulls out of modified crops case/Support for U.S. WTO challenge an embarrassment to Canadians (29/5/2003)

"This case could undermine the entire legitimacy of the WTO." - item 2

"Canadian officials say the ban is the main reason for the collapse of canola exports to the EU, worth as much as C$400 million ($290 million) in some years. They also said that, after the EU ban, exporters had lost worried clients in Asia and Africa. About 80 percent of Canada's canola, an oilseed used to make cooking oil and margarine, is genetically modified." - item 6

1. Blow to US as Egypt pulls out of modified crops case - Financial Times
2. Europe and America gear up for a confrontation at the WTO
3. Support for U.S. WTO challenge an embarrassment to Canadians
4. Canada may resolve GM dispute with EU bilaterally, outside WTO
5. Egypt Withdraws from U.S. Trade Challenge of Biotech Foods - ENS
6. Canada raps EU's "phoney science" over GM food ban
1. Blow to US as Egypt pulls out of modified crops case
Financial Times
By Tobias Buck in Brussels and Edward Alden in Washington
Published: May 29 2003

The US-led challenge to the European Union's ban on genetically-modified crops suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when it emerged that Egypt had withdrawn its support for the case before the World Trade Organisation.  The decision, revealed yesterday by environmental groups opposed to the US action, was contained in a letter sent by Egypt's EU ambassador, Soliman Awaad, to the Brussels-based European Consumers' Organisation.

The letter said: "The government of Egypt took this decision in conscious emulation of the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection, and with the desire to reduce further distortions and impediments to international trade that may result due to the further pursuit of this matter within the WTO."

US officials immediately challenged the claim, saying Egypt would support the case. But Egypt has not filed any documents in Geneva, the WTO headquarters, in support of the case.

The decision, if it stands, could be a blow to US efforts to win developing country support for the case. The US announced earlier this month, in launching the WTO challenge, that Egypt would be a co-complainant with itself, Canada and Argentina.  Egypt's participation was seen as crucial to the long-held US view that the EU's restrictive position on GM crops harms developing countries. President George W. Bush last week accused the EU of fostering hunger in Africa by impeding US efforts to sell GM crops.

The European Commission reacted with thinly-disguised glee yesterday. "That is pretty embarrassing for this 'coalition of the willing'," one official said, adding that the US had "put the group [of complainants] together in a total haste - so really it's no wonder the whole thing is now falling apart".

The Commission denied it had exerted pressure on Egypt. While Europe is an important trading partner for Egypt, buying about one quarter of its exports, the US remains Egypt's most lucrative foreign market.

The EU is also trying to exercise gentle pressure on Argentina to reconsider its support for the case. Argentina's corn exports to the EU, for instance, have tripled since 1995 during the period when US corn growers were blocked from Europe because of the GM moratorium.
2.Food Fight: Europe and America gear up for a confrontation at the WTO
By Amanda Castleman
In These Times, June 9, 2003

Europeans have never liked genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The products -- nicknamed "Frankenfoods" -- have been banned in Europe for the past five years.  These days, Europeans fear long-term health consequences and environmental contamination. They want to track GMOs from the seed sack to the dinner table, so any trouble can be quickly pinpointed and controlled. And they demand labels on all modified products, giving each citizen the ability to choose whether to purchase them.

But the outright GMO ban ends this year, and the European Union is renegotiating its policy. Politicians have been slowly hammering out the details of the plan, amid fierce public protests. But many member states -- including Italy, France, Greece, Austria and Denmark -- remain dubious. Their demands for maximum protection have delayed action.

Now, America plans to administer a force-feeding. The United States -- peeved by the loss of $ 300 million in agricultural sales each year -- is threatening to spark a trade war over GMOs.

In February, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and several other members of Congress urged the Bush administration to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.  U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick also advocates a WTO case, but prefers strength in numbers. In January, he called for an international coalition against "Luddite" Europe. Only Argentina, another GMO breadbasket, has expressed any interest in the crusade.

The bluster has not impressed politicians across the pond. E.U. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy responded: "If there was to be litigation, of course we would fight it, and I believe we would win it."

A WTO case is far more likely to alienate Europeans than persuade them, E.U. officials warn. They have asked the Bush administration to be patient and allow the political process to unfold. At a February press conference, Franz Fischler, the E.U. farm commissioner, explained: "We are in the final phases of passing our laws in Parliament, and we would strongly advise not to start an action that would disrupt that."

Expecting a renewed push now that the war in Iraq is over, Europeans remain wary. The philosophical rift between Europe and the United States over GMOs is wider -- and stormier -- than the Atlantic. America unflinchingly added GMOs to the menu in 1996 (though a modified tomato had flopped two years before). Experts estimate that 70 percent of processed goods in U.S. supermarkets contain engineered ingredients.

Soybeans, corn and canola oil are the main genetically engineered crops in America. These staples appear in bread, cereal, crackers, flour, pasta, margarine, chocolate, candy and ice cream. Not even infant formula is au naturel any more -- though manufacturers are not required to indicate that on the packaging.

So far, biotech companies have filed 19 applications to sell genetically modified products in Europe. Many Europeans see this as selling out to agribusiness and international pressure. American critics consider the E.U. application process a sham that would require U.S. growers to completely transform their processes for growing and storing food.

Europeans might agree. Because of the way they're grown, says Pete Riley from Friends of the Earth U.K., few American crops would pass muster. "The European market wants to track food from the field to the plate," he says.

The intent is to be able to quickly preempt disasters like the outbreak of mad cow disease that struck Europe during the '90s. "We see this as quite modern and 21st century," Riley continues, "while the American system seems quite backward and 17th century."

Yet trade officials are unlikely to respect Europe's autonomy when agribusiness companies like Monsanto are faltering financially. A WTO case could last three years, sparking immense bitterness between the two blocs.

Improperly handled, modified genes could imbalance the ecosystem and agriculture -- and mistakes have already been made. Critics accuse Monsanto and other big biotech companies of trying to contaminate the entire world's seed stock, thereby rendering the debate over GMOs moot. With stakes so high, Winters says, "This case could undermine the entire legitimacy of the WTO."
3.NUPGE condemns bid to force GM foods on Europeans
Support for U.S. WTO challenge an embarrassment to Canadians

Ottawa - The National Union of Public and General Employees has condemned a decision by the Canadian government to join a World Trade Organization challenge to the European Union's moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods.  The challenge has been launched by the United States with the support of Canada, Argentina, Egypt and nine other countries. The EU has refused to approve any GM products, often called 'Frankenfoods', since 1998, a move the U.S. considers illegal under WTO rules.

"How can we take any of our government's assurances on trade issues seriously when we are so obviously ready to ram GM foods down the throats of unwilling Europeans?" asks James Clancy, president of the 325,000-member National Union.  "If a European government cannot pass laws to protect public health without facing a WTO challenge, it follows that Canada will end up in the same position. The same would apply to any GM restrictions Canada might pass."

The Council of Canadians has called Ottawa's decision to support the challenge "an embarrassment for Canadians."

"Not only does this government refuse to label genetically engineered products in Canada - it now wants to impose these foods on the rest of the world," Clancy adds.  The EU moratorium is to remain in place until convincing evidence is produced to show that GM products pose no threat to public or environmental health. Pressure is growing for a similar moratorium in Canada but so far the federal Liberals have ignored it, siding instead with big agribusiness over the interests of consumers.

Clancy says the decision to support the U.S. challenge is an affront to European consumers.  "We have seen the U.S. try and use famine in Africa as a means to market GM products to reluctant farmers and citizens. Now Canada is joining the U.S. in an attempt to punish Europeans economically until they accept these products," he says.

"Instead of bowing to corporate pressure this government should support the Europeans and implement a mandatory labeling policy as well as imposing a moratorium on GM foods."
4.Canada may resolve GM dispute with EU bilaterally, outside WTO - Chretien
Source - AFX Asia (Eng)
Wednesday, May 28, 2003  22:43

ATHENS (AFX) - Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said the EU's dispute with Canada over genetically modified foods may be resolved outside the World Trade Organisation, where the Canadian government has joined an appeal launched by the US.  "We believe the problem can be resolved and that we will be able to find a  bilateral solution with the European Community without taking recourse to the  WTO," he told reporters during a Canada-EU summit held in Athens.

In mid-May, the United States led 12 countries, including Canada, into a battle at the WTO to overturn a European ban on genetically modified foods.

A group of seven EU countries has placed a moratorium on approving GM food  imports, effectively halting such trade until EU-wide laws are in place on  labelling such foods.

Canada's International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew urged European Union  members to apply the bloc's own free-trade laws in respect to the dispute.  "What we want is that (EU) member states respect their own laws," Pettigrew  told the same press conference.

But Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country currently holds the  EU presidency, said the GM dispute was "a political, not a commercial problem".

In a joint communique released after the meeting, in which the president of  the European Commission -- the EU executive -- Romano Prodi also took part, the  EU and Canada agreed they differed on the issue.  "With regard to Canada's request for WTO consultations concerning the status and treatment of applications for the approval of ... GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the EU, Canada and the EU set out their different positions," the communique said.
5.Egypt Withdraws from U.S. Trade Challenge of Biotech Foods

WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - The Egyptian government has announced that it will not be part of a U.S. led World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to the European Union's moratorium on the introduction of genetically engineered crops. On May 13, the United States said that it would be joined by Argentina, Canada, and Egypt in filing a WTO case against Europe over "its illegal five year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products." But the Egyptian government says that it has decided "not to become a party" to the WTO complaint.

A letter obtained by Friends of the Earth and the European Consumers' Organization, says, "The Government of Egypt took this decision in conscious emulation of the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and  environmental protection, and with the desire to reduce further distortions and impediments to international trade that may result due to the further pursuit of this matter within the WTO."

"Egypt's withdrawal shows that President [George W.] Bush is not aware of the deep level of concern about the safety of genetically engineered crops in the United States and abroad," said David Waskow, trade program director for Friends of the Earth, which is opposed to the WTO challenge. 

"The United States has never established an adequate regulatory system for biotech crops, so it is no wonder that people do not trust these crops and do not want to be forced to eat them," said Larry Bohlen, health and environment programs director for Friends of the Earth.

"The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on May 13. "People around the world have been eating biotech food for years. Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protects the environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use," said Zoellick.

"We've waited patiently for five years for the EU to follow the WTO rules and the recommendations of the European Commission, so as to respect safety findings based on careful science. The EU's persistent resistance to abiding by its WTO obligations has perpetuated a trade barrier unwarranted by the EC's own scientific analysis, which impedes the global use of a technology that could be of great benefit to farmers and consumers around the world," Zoellick said.

Also today, a hunger relief group in the United Kingdom refuted the Bush administration assertion that Europe is worsening starvation through its moratorium on genetically engineered crops. ActionAid released a report asserting that these genetically modified (GM) crops "will not feed the world and could pose a considerable threat to poor farmers."

The report concludes that "rather than alleviating world hunger, the new technology is likely to exacerbate food insecurity, leading to more hungry people not less."

"The UK public should not be duped into accepting GM in the name of developing countries. GM does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger. What poor people really need is access to land, water, better roads to get their crops to market, education and credit schemes," said Matthew Lockwood, ActionAid's head of policy in a statement. 

Many Europeans and Americans worry about the threat that GM crops pose to food, farming and the environment. There are fears of the long term health impacts from eating GM food, including the potential for allergic reactions that have forced the destruction of hundreds of tons of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybeans.

A Eurobarometer opinion poll in 2001 found that 70 percent of the European public does not want GM food, and 94 percent want to be able to choose whether or not they eat it.

American attitudes are similar. A United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service study released April 25 concluded, "Consumers' willingness to pay for food products decreases when the food label indicates that a food product is produced with the aid of modern biotechnology."
6.Canada raps EU's "phoney science" over GM food ban
Reuters Securities News (Eng), Wednesday, May 28, 2003

ATHENS, May 28 (Reuters) - Canadian officials on Wednesday angrily accused European Union members of using "phoney science" and caving in to political pressure to justify a five-year-old ban on new genetically modified foods.

Seven EU member states -- Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg -- have maintained a de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since March 1998 on the grounds that the foods have not been scientifically proven to be safe.

Canadian officials say the ban is the main reason for the collapse of canola exports to the EU, worth as much as C$400 million ($290 million) in some years.  They also said that, after the EU ban, exporters had lost worried clients in Asia and Africa. About 80 percent of Canada's canola, an oilseed used to make cooking oil and margarine, is genetically modified.

The officials insist there is no scientific reason for the ban and demanded it be lifted.  But the EU stood firm, saying member states would take all the time they deemed necessary to examine the issue.

Earlier this month Canada, the United States and 11 other countries said they would file a World Trade Organization complaint in hopes the EU would lift the moratorium.

The Canadian officials -- using the strongest language so far to express their unhappiness -- said the challenge would force the EU to examine its motives.  "If you look at the basic political picture in Europe, you can't get elected unless you're opposed to genetically modified food," one official told reporters after a summit between Canada and the European Union.  "We're not trying to shove it down their throats and we're saying we understand their politics. But they can't hide behind phoney science. And so, in that sense, there's progress, in that we're actually moving toward at least an honest assessment that science isn't the problem," he said.

The official said EU members now accepted they had to examine such issues as to how to label foods containing GMOs.  "The point is, they've got to start doing this stuff. You can't simply put a moratorium on things that affects people's livelihoods for phoney reasons," he said.

Although the EU's executive commission has approved a protocol on regulating trade in GMOs, several member states oppose the idea.  Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis told a news conference after the summit that many EU countries wanted more time to discuss the question.  "In many member states there is a political problem. This is not a trade problem, it's not a problem about protection of European agriculture in the sense that there should be no imports and no loss of income because of imports," he said.

"The majority of public opinion in many states thinks that the genetically modified products will... have a negative impact on the environment. This is not acceptable so it's necessary to discuss this matter and have scientific evidence."

Biotech crops are engineered to, for example, repel predatory insects or withstand weed killers. Critics say they could endanger human health and cause unforeseen damage to the environment. ($1=$1.39 Canadian)


Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive