Zoellick says favors WTO case vs EU on biotech

Reuters

Thursday January 9,

WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on Thursday said he favored bringing a World Trade Organization case against the European Union for blocking imports of U.S. genetically modified crops.

"I think the European view on this is Luddite," Zoellick said, using some of his toughest language yet to describe U.S. frustration with Brussels' refusal to approve new biotech products ranging from crops to pharmaceuticals because of EU consumer concerns about their safety.

"I personally am of the view that we now need to bring a case," Zoellick said, adding that the Bush administration still has not made a final decision on the matter.

The United States has received information that some individual EU member states have told developing countries that they can't use biotechnology food products if they want to continue receiving assistance, he said.

"I find it immoral that people are not being supplied with food to live in Africa because people have invented dangers about biotechnology," Zoellick said.

U.S. farmers say they have lost hundreds of millions of dollar of sales because of the EU moratorium on approval of new crop varieties derived through biotechnology.

The United States is a major producer of biotech foods, with about 70 percent of soybeans and more than 25 percent of corn grown from genetically modified seeds. The biotech company Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) hopes to bring to market biotech wheat.

Zoellick was he thought there was broad support in the Bush administration for bringing a World Trade Organization case against the EU for its four-year-old moratorium.

BUSH CABINET MAY CONSIDER THE MATTER

"I don't sense a lot of resistance, but sometimes processes take longer than I would like," Zoellick said.

Another USTR official on Wednesday said President George W. Bush's Cabinet could meet in coming weeks to weigh the matter.

Acknowledging the strong views many European consumer groups have on the subject, Zoellick said it was important to bring a case in a way that stresses the benefits of genetically modified crops in fighting hunger, increasing agricultural productivity and reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

But EU Trade Commission Pascal Lamy said it would be counterproductive for the United States to bring a case because the EU was steadily loosening its moratorium.

"If there was to be litigation, of course we would fight it and I believe we would win it, which is probably not exactly what the U.S. is looking for," Lamy said in a conference call with reporters in Europe.

"I have always said that doing this ... would make a solution more complex rather than more simple," he added.

While American agriculture is eager to see an opening of the EU's biotech market, some fear that filing a WTO complaint could be an impediment.

One official of a major U.S. commodity group, who asked not to be identified, on Wednesday noted the WTO process could stretch for three years or so and discourage the EU from taking further action on its own.

But noting that the United States already has waited four years for the EU to voluntarily lift its moratorium, Zoellick said: "I don't see things getting improved."