To the anger of green NGOs, the EU has decided not to appeal against a WTO ruling which upholds a US-led complaint that it is illegally blocking imports of genetically modified food.
The international trade body found that, that by suspending the approval of all GMO products between 1999 and 2003, the EU had applied a “de facto moratorium” resulting in “undue delay” and thereby breaking trade rules.
It also ruled that national bans applied on a number of GMO products by six EU member states – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg – despite the fact that the Commission had approved these products as safe, were in violation of WTO rules.
Nevertheless, the WTO’s 1,148-page ruling – the longest ever in the history of the WTO – is unlikely to settle transatlantic differences over how the EU currently deals with GMO imports, as it rejected claims that the strict regulations currently applied by the EU on GM food and crops were illegal and refused to rule on the overarching issue of whether biotech foods are safe.
Thus, while the US claims that the ruling means the EU will now be obliged to speed up its GMO approval system, the EU argues that the panel’s findings are purely “theoretical” as it has already come into compliance by putting an end to its moratorium in 2004 and subsequently allowing a number of GMOs into its market.
The Commission will nevertheless have to find a way to deal with the issue of national bans, which are still in place. It has asked the plaintiffs to allow it “a reasonable period of time” to work with member states.