Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama have requested arbitration at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the level of duty proposed by the EU in the new tariff-only system for the EU's import regime for bananas.

In response, the EU said that while it regrets the decision of these WTO members to request arbitration, "it will defend its proposal before the arbitrator and remains open for constructive engagement with interested WTO members".

"The Commission is fully committed to respect the terms of the agreement on bananas approved by consensus in Doha in 2001. These terms, which provide for the move to tariff-only by 1 January 2006 and allow recourse to independent arbitration on the level of the tariff, were explicitly requested by Latin American exporting countries," said EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel.

"The EU banana import regime is changing but the level of protection is not increasing. The proposed new tariff is based on a methodology to calculate tariff equivalents enshrined in the WTO texts and on objective data. I believe this figure and methodology has allowed us to square the circle and safeguard the sometimes conflicting interests of our consumers, producers and trading partners," she added.

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