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WTO finds ‘undue delay’ for GM import in Europe

In often delayed, still secret, but not unexpected preliminary findings, a three-person expert panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, on February 7 was said to have ruled that many European bans on genetically modified (GM) crops and food products breached trade agreements.

Such agreements declare that market approval procedures of food products should be science-based and without ‘undue delay.’

Press reports based on leaked copies of the ruling said the WTO panel found country-wide bans by Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg of EU-approved crops violated agreements. The panel also found that a pause in EU product approvals between 1999 and 2003 amounted to an illegal moratorium. Of the 27 cases the panel weighed it said 24 had met undue delays.

In response, on February 8, European Commission trade spokesman Peter Power said WTO rulings “will not alter the system or framework within which the EU takes decisions on GM [organisms]”. The EU had argued that lengthy procedures merely reflect rigorous review.

The dispute was brought before the WTO in May 2003 by the United States, Canada and Argentina. After the WTO report is published, rules then allow for an appeal.

If the EU defies a final ruling, the US and its allies could get permission to impose tariffs on imported European goods.

doi:10.1038/nbt0306-233

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