The American Soybean Association is asking the U.S. government to contest the European Union's traceability and labeling requirements for all transgenic food and feed products.
Specifically, the trade group is calling for the United States to engage in a World Trade Organization dispute settlement proceeding against the European Union's new requirements. “These requirements are non-tariff trade barriers that violate WTO obligations and will result in significant losses to the U.S. food and agriculture industry,” says American Soybean Association President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. “ASA is urging United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to take action to prevent further disruption of U.S. agricultural commodity and food product exports to the European Union resulting from these regulations.”
According to the commodity group, the new regulations, published Oct. 18 in the Official Journal of the European Union, clearly violate the European Union's WTO obligations.
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade agreements require that import restrictions not discriminate between imported and domestic products and not be overly restrictive to trade. The agreements also require that any measures which have the effect of restricting trade must be based on scientific principles.
“The new European Union regulations are not consistent with these provisions and clearly discriminate against imported products,” Heck says. “In addition, the requirements would set a precedent for process-based traceability and labeling that could create potentially insurmountable technical barriers to trade, and discourage adoption and acceptance of new technologies, including biotechnology, around the globe.”
The products of modern biotechnology already must undergo intensive scientific and regulatory review before being approved to enter the EU market, and the EU has not identified any science-based risks associated with approved biotech products. Despite this, the regulations use the “precautionary principle” and other non-science based factors to justify the implementation of costly and trade-restrictive traceability and labeling requirements.
“The U.S. government consistently has opposed the use of such criteria for restricting trade and must rigorously challenge EU regulations that embody these concepts,” Heck says. “Soybean producers believe the Bush administration must challenge the EU's new regulations in anticipation that other countries will come under pressure from the EU and activist groups to adopt similar requirements and restrictions.”
The soybean group says it is also concerned that if left unchallenged, the EU requirements will influence international organizations to adopt similar requirements as global standards that will negatively affect U.S. agricultural commodity and food exports.
“The U.S. government must take every possible action to confront these trade-distorting policies and prevent further erosion of U.S. agriculture and food export markets in the EU and other countries,” Heck said. “Now that the EU's regulations have been finalized, it is time to engage the EU in a WTO dispute settlement proceeding immediately.”
In the marketing year that ended Aug. 31, the United States exported 209 million bushels of soybeans to the EU, which was 27 percent below the previous year when exports totaled 286 million bushels. ASA estimates that the EU's biotech policies have already damaged U.S. soybean exports largely as a result of apprehension among trade customers about implementation of the new requirements for labeling and traceability.
ASA believes that the new regulations will further damage U.S. soybean and food exports to the EU by increasing the cost of imported goods through costly traceability requirements. Additionally, ASA believes the non-science based labeling requirements will drive food manufacturers to reformulate to take biotech ingredients out of their products rather than place stigmatizing biotech labels on their brands