MINNEAPOLIS / GENEVA - November 22 - The European Communities (EC) elected today not to appeal a World Trade
Organization (WTO) dispute panel decision on regulating genetically engineered (GE) crops brought by
the U.S., Canada, and Argentina. The decision not to appeal leaves intact a controversial ruling that a
United Nations environmental treaty did not apply in regulating GE crops, according to the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
“The EU’s unfortunate decision could be used to undercut international environmental treaties across
the board,” said Steve Suppan, an IATP senior policy analyst and author of a backgrounder in the case.
“The decision says that WTO members cannot keep their commitments to multilateral environmental
agreements [MEAs] if measures to do so are challenged under WTO rules. The ruling sets a terrible legal
precedent that will be used to attack regulations that comply with MEA commitments.”
In the WTO dispute, the EC defended its regulatory system before the WTO by referring to the UN’s
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a ratified treaty that authorizes signatories to take a precautionary
approach to regulating GE crops when there is scientific uncertainty or insufficient data about a product.
Over 130 countries around the world have signed onto the Biosafety Protocol, but the U.S. is not one of
them. The WTO panel ruled that because the U.S., Argentina and Canada have not ratified the Protocol,
the EC could not use a Protocol based defense.
“Only a diplomatic conference could reconcile commitments to divergent international treaties,” said
Suppan. “By declining to appeal, the EC has allowed a very bad precedent to become a foundation for
ruling on disputes about trade vs. MEA conflicts, for example, disputes about the regulation of synthetic
biology or agri-nanotechnology products.”
Europe utilizes the “precautionary principle” to regulate not only GE crops, but also toxic chemicals as
part of their recently approved REACH system. The WTO panel ruled that the precautionary principle is
too controversial and unsettled in international public law to serve as a basis for panel rulings.
The U.S., Argentina and Canada brought the case against the EC’s regulatory system for “undue delay”
in approving new GE crops. The EC has since modified its regulatory system and approved GE crops. EC
officials argue these modifications already make the EC compliant with the Biotech Products ruling. U.S.
officials dispute that conclusion and may launch another dispute to challenge EC rules that require
labeling and traceability of GE crops and foods. European consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to GE
crops. IATP supports labeling of approved GE foods and moratoria against commercialization of GE
crops such as wheat that have been rejected by farmers, food processors and consumers.
IATP has written a backgrounder and analysis of the case, available at: www.tradeobservatory.org.