BRUSSELS -- The European Union Friday vowed a vigorous defense
against any possible U.S. suit at the World Trade Organization challenging the
E.U.'s four-year moratorium on importing genetically modified crops.
"We would fight a WTO case and we believe we would win it," said Arancha
Gonzalez, an E.U. spokeswoman.
On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick slammed the E.U.
moratorium, calling it "immoral" and a "complete violation of WTO" rules.
Some U.S. officials are concerned about raising tensions with Europe and
Zoellick said Washington still hasn't decided to file a WTO case. A high-profile
trade dispute could backfire by strengthening anti-U.S. sentiment in Europe
against GM crops and complicating U.S. diplomacy on a possible Iraq war.
The E.U. also fears an escalation. "We don't think a WTO case will move the
case forward. Rather, it will freeze the process of lifting the moratorium,"
The E.U. passed tough new GM labeling and traceability rules last December and
the E.U. parliament will vote on them this spring. If they are approved,
European fears about the potential risks of such products will be eased and
could lead to a lifting of the moratorium. Some E.U. countries, including France
and Italy, have refused to issue new approvals until strict GM labels are in
Zoellick's anger with the E.U. attitude was sparked by a row over food aid to
Africa. Last fall, famine-stricken Zambia refused U.S. food aid that included
genetically-modified corn. Zoellick now accuses several European countries of
making economic aid to developing countries contingent on whether they bar GM
The Europeans rejected the charge. "It's a bit far fetched to link the GM
debate with hunger in Africa," Gonzalez said. The U.S. gave African countries an
unfair choice between importing GM seeds that could contaminate their domestic
crops or face starvation, she said.
A possible solution is to provide milled grain, which avoids any fears of
contamination into environment, Gonzalez said.
Drought-stricken Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe say they
will only accept the grain provided it is milled to prevent it from being
planted, while Zambia has imposed an outright ban.
The U.S. has said milling doubles the cost of the grain, meaning less food for
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