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IP/09/1142

Brussels, 15 July 2009

EU and Canada settle WTO case on Genetically Modified Organisms

The European Union and Canada have today signed in Geneva a final settlement of the WTO dispute that Canada brought against the EU in May 2003 regarding the application of its legislation on biotech products. The mutually agreed solution provides for the establishment of a regular dialogue on issues of mutual interest on agriculture biotechnology. The EU and Canada will notify this settlement to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body as a mutually agreed solution.

EU Trade Commissioner Ashton said: "The mutually agreed solution with Canada is a clear sign that this type of dialogue works. I hope we can follow the same constructive approach with Argentina and the United States."

EC regulatory procedures on genetically modified organisms are working normally, as evidenced by 21 authorisations since the date of establishment of the WTO panel. The European Commission has held regular discussions on biotech-related issues with the three complainants in this case – Canada, Argentina and the United States - since the adoption of the WTO panel report in 2006.

The settlement reached with Canada provides for bi-annual meetings between competent services of the European Commission and Canadian authorities on agricultural biotechnology market access issues of mutual interest, including:

  • GM product approvals in the territory of Canada or the EU as well as, where appropriate, forthcoming applications of commercial interest to either side.

  • The commercial and economic outlook for future approvals of genetically modified products.

  • Any trade impact related to asynchronous approvals of genetically modified products or the accidental release of unauthorised products, and any appropriate measures in this respect.

  • Any biotech-related measures that may affect trade between Canada and the EU, including measures of EU Member States.

  • Any new legislation in the field of agriculture biotechnology.

  • Best practices in the implementation of legislation on biotechnology

This dialogue is aimed at an exchange of information that would contribute to avoiding unnecessary obstacles to trade. The EU is not expected to modify its current regulatory regime on biotech products, which was never subject to WTO challenge in itself.

Background

Following a complaint by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU on the application of its legislation on biotech products, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted on 21 November 2006 three panel reports which found a violation of the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement on three grounds:

  • The application of a general de facto moratorium on approval of GM products from June 1999 to August 2003

  • The existence of undue delays with respect to 23 product-specific applications (out of the 27 cases considered by the Panel).

  • National safeguard measures introduced by 6 Member States before the establishment of the panel, which were found not to be based on an appropriate risk assessment.

Subsequently, the EU and the three complainants (US, Argentina and Canada) agreed to engage in technical discussions on biotech-related issues, which would not be limited to issues of implementation of the WTO panel recommendations. The EU and the complainants also reached an agreement for a 12-month Reasonable Period of Time for implementation (i.e. until 21 November 2007). The complainants agreed to further extend the RPT until 11 January 2008, where they would take stock of progress and decide the way forward.

The complainants have taken different positions in view of the expiration of that extended RPT:

(a) Argentina and Canada have agreed to several extensions of the RPT, most recently until 31 December 2009 and 31 July 2009 July, respectively. Technical discussions with Argentina and Canada have continued to date.

(b) The US made a general retaliation request on 17 January 2008. On 6 February 2008, the EU objected to the US retaliation request. The matter was referred to arbitration under Article 22.6 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding at the special meeting of the DSB held on 8 February 2008. On 15 February 2008, and according to the sequencing agreement concluded between the US and the EU, both parties requested the suspension of Article 22.6 procedures. The chairman of the arbitration panel suspended those procedures on 18 February 2008. Those procedures can only be resumed following the examination of compliance of the panel report by the EU through an arbitration procedure under Article 21.5 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). The US and the EU continued technical discussions in 2008. The last round of discussions took place in October 2008.

For more on dispute settlement at the WTO see

http://ec.europa.eu/trade/issues/respectrules/dispute/index_en.htm


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