US sends Europe trade war warning on GMOs

Biotechnology could be new trade battleground, warns top US agriculture official

A senior US agriculture official has warned the EU that disagreements over biotechnology could spark a global trade war unless politicians agree internationally acceptable regulations on genetically modified agricultural commodities. Richard Rominger, the US deputy secretary of agriculture told a conference in Brussels today that the EU and the US must ensure that GMO food safety does not become "the next trade battleground".

The comments will be interpreted as a warning from the US that it will fight any regulatory regime which it sees as discriminating against US produce. Although Mr Rominger's speech was couched in diplomatic terms, it contained a clear message that Europe's current regulatory regime was failing to provide fair market access to US GM crops.

The US was "bending over backwards" to understand the European situation, he said, but getting frustrated by the EU's failure to apply its own rules. Examples of what the US already considers trade barriers are the unilateral bans imposed by Luxembourg and Austria on GM maize which in theory has been approved for sale throughout the EU (ENDS Daily 16 April 1998), and the slow progress of getting approval for marketing of GM crops in the EU, under a 1990 directive which is currently being revised (ENDS Daily 11 February).

He claimed that the US had lost trade worth about US$200m last year when it could not export GM maize to Spain and Portugal because there was a delay in getting EU approval for the three different strains. In private, US officials say France deliberately blocked the GMO approvals in order to thwart the US exports and sell more of its own maize.

The speech adds to rising concerns that different countries' GMOs will be a major stumbling block at the next round of WTO talks which will focus heavily on liberalising international markets for agriculture. The widespread acceptance of GMOs in the US means that between a quarter and one-half of the US' production of maize, soya and cotton is now GM.

On the other side of the argument, UK Socialist MEP David Bowe said he was concerned that the US might use "aggressive and bullying" tactics over the issue at the WTO talks. In a speech given in his absence by his assistant, Mr Bowe said that the US was "out of step" with most of the rest of the world on GMOs. He said evidence for this was that the US had been largely responsible for the recent collapse of international negotiations on a biosafety protocol that would have set rules for trading GMOs (ENDS Daily 24 February).

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