- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

The Senate's top trade legislators yesterday accused the Bush administration of withholding a World Trade Organization case that would open a $300 million market for U.S. biotech crops.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of Senate Finance Committee, said he is "profoundly disappointed" that the administration has not filed a complaint at the WTO against European Union rules that hinder sales of biotech crops in the 15 EU member nations.
"I simply can't understand the administration's decision to delay bringing a WTO case against the European Union's biotech policies," Mr. Grassley said at a Finance Committee hearing.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees trade, attacked U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick over the administration's inaction. He intimated that policies related to Iraq, where the administration is looking for allies in an effort to disarm the Middle Eastern country, have softened trade policy.
"Who in the administration is saying no [to a WTO case]?" Mr. Baucus demanded.
Mr. Zoellick did not answer directly but said that he was working to create a pro-biotech coalition that would file a joint case at the WTO.
"It shouldn't just be a legal matter. What we have to do is win the debate about biotech in world public opinion," Mr. Zoellick said yesterday before the Finance Committee.
Mr. Zoellick did not elaborate on who could join the coalition. Argentina, Canada, China, South Africa and Australia are the world's biggest biotech producers after the United States.
The European Union, citing consumer health and environmental concerns, stopped allowing new biotech products into its market in October 1998.
The European Union is under pressure to lift the moratorium but has not changed its rules.
The moratorium has angered U.S. companies, which are at the forefront of producing seeds and crops that have had their genetic material artificially modified.
About two-thirds of U.S. soybeans, one-third of corn and 40 percent of cotton crops are modified to withstand pesticides or resist pests, American Farm Bureau figures show.
EU policies create a chilling effect on sales of biotech products around the world, Mr. Grassley said. Some developing countries have been reluctant to accept U.S. food aid out of fear that the European Union would close the doors to them.
Mr. Zoellick echoed the senator's concerns as recently as January, when he said he wanted to bring a case to the WTO immediately.
If the international trade body rules in favor of the United States, the European Union would have to lift the moratorium on biotech products or would be subject to trade sanctions.
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, visiting Washington this week, threatened $4 billion in sanctions against U.S. products if the administration and Congress did not comply with a WTO ruling against U.S. tax codes.
The United States has lost several high-profile cases to the European Union at the WTO but should comply with the rulings, Mr. Zoellick said yesterday.
"It does serve our national interest to follow through on the rules," he said.

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