The World Trade Organisation has yet to officially approve April's agreement between the US and the EU aimed at solving a banana dispute, and as trade tensions over waivers grow, experts have warned that further delays look likely.

EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy and US counterpart Robert Zoellick welcomed the April agreement as a diplomatic triumph.

So far however, while the US has lifted sanctions on EU exports worth US$191m (€219.7m), Brussels is adamant that special waivers from WTO rules must be obtained before EU ministers will agree to amend its banana import regime. If the waivers are not won this month, EU officials warn that it is unlikely the regime will be amended in time for 1 January 2002.

Several banana-producing Latin American countries oppose the waivers, which would make it difficult to mount a legal challenge against the trade agreement. Particularly, the EU is seeking exemption from the Cotonou agreement, which grants trade preferences to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The EU has commented that the US is not lobbying hard enough for the waivers, but the US believes it is merely trying to broker a deal between the EU and Latin America. US officials also argue that the EU is demanding unnecessarily long waivers, of eight years rather than four, that are, moreover, too vaguely worded.

If the EU import regime is not amended by 1 January, the US could retaliate with sanctions, but Brussels does not see this as a likely threat.


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