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WTO GM TRADE WAR HAS EUROPE LOST THE CASE?
Immediate release: Wed 14 December 2005
The Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organisation has today (Weds) refused to confirm rumours that Europe has lost the transatlantic trade dispute on genetically modified (GM) foods. One of the issues at stake is whether European countries can continue to maintain national bans on the import of GM products on a country by country basis.
Former WTO chief, Supachai Panitchpakdi, suggested recently that Europe had lost the trade dispute, a view confirmed last week by the French International Trade Minister, Christine Lagard. Deputy Director General of the WTO Alejandro Jara* *refused to comment on the statements from Supachai and Lagard.
The WTO is due to issue its draft final report on the GM trade dispute lead by the US against Europe on 5 January 2006.
Environmental campaigners have delivered a petition to the WTO signed by more than 135,000 people from 100 countries and by 740 organisations representing 60 million people, demanding the WTO allows European countries to protect their environment, consumers and farming from the risks posed by GM foods.
Friends of the Earth Europe Trade campaigner Alexandra Wandel said:
"The World Trade Organisation should have the guts to tell European consumers that free trade rules come before their safety and that they will be forced to eat genetically modified foods whether they want to or not. The WTO is the wrong place to be deciding what we eat and how we protect our environment. It is time they got their hands off our food."
Green Party WTO delegate Caroline Lucas MEP said:
"The right of individual countries to decide whether or not to allow GMOs in their food chains or their environment is a key element of the democratic principles which are supposed to underpin the EU itself. Neither the WTO nor the EU have any right to overrule the clear majority of EU citizens who do not want GMOs in their communities."
French Farmer Jose Bove said:
"Farmers and consumers are strongly opposed to GMOs. We will take action to keep Europe GMO free and to protect the world from GM farming."
Indian Ecologist Vandana Shiva said:
"The transatlantic trade dispute shows the worst face of the WTO. Despite the fact that the UN Biosafety Protocol allows countries to use the precautionary principle to ban the import of GMOs, the WTO may force feed us GMOs"
*NOTES FOR EDITORS:*
WTO Deputy Director General Alejandro Jara met Jose Bove, Vandana Shiva, Caroline Lucas MEP and campaigners earlier today at the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong.* *High-resolution photographs are available from Friends of the Earth at _www.bite-back.org/pics/handover.htm 000_at midday UK time
Further information is available at www.bite-back.org/
The "Bite Back" citizen's objection was initiated by Friends of the Earth International with the support of ActionAid Alliance, Public Services International, Public Citizen, the International Gender and Trade Network, the French Confederation Paysanne, and the Indian Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology.
The WTO is expected to issue a draft final report on 5th January 2006. In line with WTO secrecy, the draft ruling will only be sent to the countries in the dispute. This will be the basis for the final ruling expected later in March or April.
According to witnesses, former WTO Director General and now Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Conference_on_Trade_and_Development
(UNCTAD), Supachai Panitchpakdi, made it clear that Europe had lost the trade dispute over GM foods in a meeting on November 28th with Indian NTGOs. French International Trade Minister, Christine Lagard, confirmed this in a meeting with French NGOs on December 8th . She apparently deplored the fact that such information, which should have remained confidential in the pre-Ministerial period, was communicated in the context of the "Pre-Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting Consultation Workshop: Identifying Indias Core Concerns", organised jointly by the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry (Department of Commerce) and UNCTAD.
In May 2003 the United States, supported by Canada, Argentina and initially Egypt, made a formal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about Europe's stance on genetically modified organisms (GMO). In January the WTO will publish an Interim Report into the dispute. This will be a draft of the final ruling expected later in March or April.
*What was the complaint?*
The US-led coalition alleges that Europe has:
-Refused to give the approval to a number of new GM foods,
-Stopped processing the applications for new GMOs,
-Not taken action to stop EU member states banning GM products.
The US argues that Europe's position on GMOs violates WTO rules and is a barrier to trade. In particular, it claims that US farmers have lost exports because they grow GM crops not approved in Europe. President Bush later added that the EU's moratorium was impeding efforts to feed the world. He stated that "European governments should join - not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."
*What has happened in the meantime*
- Egypt pulls out
Soon after launching the dispute Egypt angered the US by pulling out altogether, citing "the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection." As the only African country in the coalition this was a crucial blow to their "feed the world" argument.
- Secret panel meetings
After failing to resolve differences the WTO set up a panel of trade experts to examine the case. They have met in secrecy and have taken evidence behind closed doors from the countries involved and also third party countries who wanted to take part.
- Scientists called in
The US argued heavily for science to be kept out of the dispute, stating that it was a trade complaint and the safety of GM foods was not at stake. However the WTO panel disagreed and set up a group of scientists to examine the facts and report on whether there were scientific grounds for Europe taking such a position. The scientists' report has not been made public.
- Europe's defence
The European Commission has argued in the WTO that the science on GMOs is constantly evolving and that "new risk considerations sometimes arise spontaneously and change the scope of the risk assessment". They also argue that there are "legitimate scientific concerns" about the use of antibiotic resistant genes and secondary effects of GM crops on beneficial insects.
- Europe's double standards
Under pressure from the WTO and biotech industry, the European Commission however promotes GM foods and has forced through a number of new GMOs despite being unable to get sufficient support from EU member states.
In addition it took major steps to try and get member states to lift their national bans on GM products. The move back-fired when the Council of Environment Ministers voted down a Commission proposal to stop the bans in June 2005.
- Bite Back Hands off our food!
Because of the WTO's secret ways of working, the general public has been locked out of this dispute from the beginning. A number of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have however been active in making their views heard. Some groups have sent in their own legal submissions to the WTO. Over 740 organisations with a combined membership of 60 million people have supported a campaign called Bite Back Hands off our food! (www.bite-back). This campaign demands that the WTO does not force GM foods on people against their wishes.
*What are the ramifications?*
Since the beginning of the WTO case, the European Commission has taken a much more proactive position on GMOs, using its legal powers to end the six-year long moratorium and promoting GM foods despite the massive objection from its citizens. If Europe loses the WTO case, then they will either have to accept more GM foods or face hefty sanctions on EU products.
The biggest impact of the trade dispute goes well beyond Europe's shores. The case serves as a warning to other countries, particularly developing countries, not to restrict access to their markets by banning or restricting GMOs. In a similar case over beef hormones, once the US started a WTO trade complaint no other country in the world banned them. Although the US is hoping that this is also the case with GMOs it is unlikely to be so easy.
Public protest against GM foods is worldwide and the Untied Nations has established a Biosafety Protocol to protect developing countries from GMOs.
The Interim Report will be sent to the countries in the dispute for their comments on 5th January. They will then have 3 weeks to submit their comments. There is then the opportunity for countries to comment on the other parties comments before a final ruling is issued, currently due on 20 March. This will then be translated into the official WTO languages and issued to all members of the WTO in April/May.
Following the final report it is likely that the loser will launch an appeal against the verdict. In the meantime, the European Commission aims to push for the approval of GMOs and the lifting of national bans. The environment, farmers and consumers would be the losers, biotech companies the big winners.
HOW TO HELP: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6043