Canada settles WTO complaint against Europe
By IAN AUSTEN and JAMES KANTER
New York Times, July 15 2009
Canada settled a trade dispute with Europe on Wednesday that will lead to the country dropping its six-year-old complaint at the World Trade Organization over European restrictions on imports of genetically modified food.
The European Union trade commissioner, Catherine Ashton, said she hoped to reach similar agreements with Argentina and the United States, bringing an end to one of the most contentious recent cases in trans-Atlantic trade policy.
"The mutually agreed solution with Canada is a clear sign that this type of dialogue works," Ms. Ashton said.
Although Canadian farm groups welcomed the settlement, they also cautioned that not all issues related to genetically modified crops have been resolved with Europe.
The European Union and the United States last discussed the biotech case in October. The Americans have allowed time for further talks this year although American officials have said they retained the right to retaliate.
Nefeterius Akeli McPherson, a spokeswoman for the office of the United States Trade Representative, said the settlement with Canada "has limited relevance to the U.S. approach to this issue.” She added that the American government does not "share the government of Canada’s assessment of the effectiveness with which the E.U. is implementing the W.T.O. panel’s rulings.”
In 2003, Argentina, Canada and the United States separately challenged the way the European Union handles genetically modified food imports. Three years later, the trade body ruled that Europe's methods from 1984 to 2004 were effectively a ban on genetically modified products and illegal under the trade agreement.
Canada’s complaint with Europe was focused on exports of canola, an oil seed. But that problem was actually resolved some months ago.
Trish Jordan, a spokeswoman for Monsanto Canada, which produced genetically modified canola seed, said Europe approved the last modified seed used by Canadian farmers in March.
"All issues for Canadian biotech farmers have essentially been approved," she said. "That should allow the marketing of Canadian canola to Europe."
Stockwell Day, the minister of international trade in Canada, said in a statement, “the European Community has committed to an ongoing dialogue with Canada on biotechnology that will continue to help improve market access.” He added the result is “positive news for Canadian producers.”
After the final European clearances in March, the Canadian government consulted seed producers and farmers about the future of the trade complaint.
JoAnne Buth, the president of the Canola Council of Canada, said that some European Union members, particularly Austria, have ignored the union’s import decisions and continue to ban imports of genetically modified foods. She added that the Canadian industry does not like the European process for reviewing the safety of genetically modified food.
“It’s what happens after the science review in Europe that’s the real problem,” she said. “It then goes to a political review where member states vote. That political process is not predictable at all.”
In exchange for Canada’s dropping its trade complaint, Europe agreed to meet twice a year with Canadian officials to review the European Union restrictions on genetically modified food. Those sessions will also try to ensure they approve new biotech products at the same time.
Despite the canola settlement, significant issues remain related to exports of other crops, including corn and soybeans, from the United States to Europe.
European officials insist the bloc has changed its policies by allowing imports of genetically modified products since July 2004, when it approved imports of modified corn by Monsanto.
Next Article in Business (14 of 34) » A version of this article appeared in print on July 16, 2009, on page B2 of the New York edition.