- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

The Bush administration's top trade official yesterday said he wants file a case to the World Trade Organization that would pry open the European Union's restrictive biotechnology market for U.S. companies.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said the U.S. government should file a case with the WTO against the European Union because of a four-year moratorium on biotechnology products.
"I personally am of the view that we now need to bring a case," Mr. Zoellick told reporters.
Citing consumer health and environmental concerns, the 15-nation European Union stopped allowing new biotech products to enter its market in October 1998. The decision has angered U.S. companies, which are at the forefront of producing seeds and crops that have had their genetic material modified in ways that do not occur naturally.
If the United States brings and wins a case at the World Trade Organization, the European Union would have to lift the moratorium or trade sanctions would be allowed to compensate companies for the lost business.
The Bush administration considered a WTO case against the European Union at an interagency meeting last month. Mr. Zoellick said he does not think others in the administration will resist filing a case but no final decision has been made.
"I hope the time frame is sooner rather than later," Mr. Zoellick told reporters.
The administration plans to make the case that Europe's stance on biotechnology is hurting developing nations.
Mr. Zoellick said the policy of some European Union member states has led countries in Africa to shun biotech crops while their populations go hungry.
"I see something that is extremely disturbing, which is that the European anti-scientific policies on this are spreading to other corners of the world," Mr. Zoellick said. "Whether seriously or as an excuse, it's been used by political leaders in Africa to not eat the food that you and I eat and rather let their people starve. I think that's a rather serious development."
A Washington-based EU official said the accusation about influencing African nations is unfounded and the timing of a WTO case would be unfortunate.
The official blamed organizations such as Greenpeace for "scaremongering" in Africa and said the U.S. government could not substantiate its claim about EU countries tying African trade to biotechnology.
As for the timing, he said EU members were preparing to lift the moratorium, probably in the spring, but if a WTO case is filed would likely hold off.
"And this could backfire the European consumer could become even more adamant," the official said.
In Africa, Zambia's government in October refused U.S. food aid out of concern that genetically modified corn in the shipment would contaminate its own crops and, in turn, hurt exports to Europe. Other African countries also have expressed health or trade-related concerns but no other nation has rejected a shipment, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Roughly one-third of U.S. corn acreage and three-quarters of U.S. soybean acreage two of the most common crops have been planted with genetically modified varieties. The only whole grain in U.S. food aid donations that might be bioengineered is corn, according to the State Department.
Genetic modifications are often designed to improve yields and resist diseases, harsh environmental conditions, and pests or pesticides.
The European Union has expressed concern related to public health how genetically modified organisms could affect people and the possibility that genetically modified crops can mix with natural crops and contaminate them.
U.S. biotech companies came under fire last year for contaminating crops or food products in isolated accidents.
But U.S. biotech and farm groups have countered there is no scientific evidence supporting the EU moratorium.
"I think the European view on this is Luddite. I think it has been taken hold of with scare tactics. And I think it is very bad for the world economy and development," Mr. Zoellick said.

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