GM dispute

US and EU to battle it out

Published: Sunday 15 June 2003

post-Iraq, the us is gearing up for another fight. This time, it is over the export of genetically modified (gm) food to the eu. The us is moving the World Trade Organization (wto), along with Argentina, Canada and Egypt against the eu's "five-year moratorium" on allowing the sale of gm agricultural products in the bloc.

The European Commission has termed the move as legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful. "Though the us claims that there is a so-called "moratorium", the fact is that the eu has authorised gm varieties in the past and is currently processing applications," said eu trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, maintaining the eu was in line with wto rules.

Since October 1998, no new gmos have been authorised for release in the eu. The bloc insists that it was because its regulatory regime was not in place. The eu will have to show sufficient scientific evidence for the de facto moratorium. It will also have to prove that there is no undue delay in approving or rejecting gm products.

The us -- the largest gm crop producer -- has a vested interest in deregulating trade in gm foods, alleges the eu. Regulations or labelling policies for gm food will affect us exports, chiefly maize and soyabean, since the country's traders do not segregate non- gm crops from gm crops. For instance, 35 per cent of us maize is of the gm variety, but only 1-2 per cent of the produce is segregated. Therefore, 98 per cent of the us maize may contain gm maize varieties, which may not be approved in importing countries.

Under the wto guidelines, countries can settle disputes through consultations within 60 days. If the us fails initially, it can then request for a dispute settlement panel which may take a time period of about 18 months to reach a decision. Even if the us wins the case, the European consumer who remains highly sceptical of gm food will be the ultimate decision-maker.

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