Politics, WTO, and GMO’s – EU given extra time to lift bans and approve GMO imports
November 23, 2007
The European Union yesterday won a two month extension for ending its ban on imports of genetically modified (GMO) foods. The extension means the EU has more time to reach conclusions over those member states implementing their own GMO bans and will avoid disciplinary action for the moment.
Last November, the World Trade Organisation (WTO)* ordered Europe’s ban be lifted following a case brought by leading GMO producers Argentina, Canada and the US under claims that their farmers were losing millions of euros annually because of the EU.
The WTO had previously faulted the EU for undue delay in approving GMO products for a four-year period ending in 2003 and accused a number of member states of maintaining unjustified bans on those products already found safe by the EU.
Peter Power, EU spokesman for trade, confirmed that a negotiation has been made extending the ban, with a new deadline set as 11 January 2008. However, he was unable to comment on the reasons for requesting the extension, and what developments will be made before meeting new deadline.
However, EU member states have operated their own GMO bans, making it difficult for the Commission to comply with the WTO ruling. All 9 Austrian regions have declared their intention to remain GMO-free, making Austria the third GMO-free country in the EU (as well as Greece and Poland).
Last month, EU environment ministers failed to agree on whether to force Austria to lift its national ban on two types of GM maize, produced by US biotech company Monsanto and German drugs group Bayer. The decision has now been left in the hands of the Commission.
It was the third time since 2005 that ministers had failed to reach a majority verdict, and meant the EU could not meet the WTO’s original deadline of 21 November 2007.
When the EU was given this time limit, it decided not to appeal, much to the anger of green organisations who are concerned about the effect of genetic modification on the environment.
Friends of the Earth trade campaigner Sonja Meister said: “The WTO is the wrong body for settling trade disputes. It has a long history of putting corporate interests firmly ahead of environmental protection, public safety and democracy.”**
*The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
**The WTO’s stated goal is to improve the welfare of the peoples of its member countries, specifically by lowering trade barriers and providing a platform for negotiation of trade. Its main mission is “to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible”. This main mission is further specified in certain core functions serving and safeguarding five fundamental principles, which are the foundation of the multilateral trading system.
Although the stated aim of the WTO is to promote free trade and stimulate economic growth, some believe that globally free trade results in the rich (both people and countries) becoming richer, while the poor are getting poorer. Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network, argues that the WTO does not manage the global economy impartially, but in its operation has a systematic bias toward rich countries and multinational corporations, harming smaller countries which have less negotiation power.