According to a ruling by the World Trade Organisation delivered yesterday (22 November), the EU broke international trade regulations by blocking imports of genetically modified organisms. 

The decision upholds a challenge brought to the WTO in 2003 by the United States, Canada and Argentina. The three countries said the moratorium on biotech application approvals, adopted in 1998, did not comply with WTO trade rules.

The WTO "has ruled in favour of science-based policymaking over the unjustified, anti-biotech policies adopted in the EU," US Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said. "After eight years of legal wrangling and stalling by Europe, we are a step closer to clearing barriers faced by US agricultural producers and expanding global use of promising advances in food production."

In addition to the EU's moratorium on product approvals, the WTO case challenged product bans imposed by six EU Member States (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg) on seven of the biotech crops approved by the EU prior to the adoption of the moratorium. The US said that despite a "handful" of GMO approvals in 2003, when the WTO complaint was lodged, the EU has yet to lift the de facto ban.

"I urge the EU to fully comply with its WTO obligations, and consider all outstanding biotech product applications, and evaluate their scientific merits in accordance with the EU's own laws, without undue delay," Schwab added.

However, the EU contests the suggestion that it has not allowed the trade in GMOs, concluding that it ended its moratorium in 2004, when it allowed onto the market a modified strain of sweet corn grown mainly in the US, and argued that it had come into compliance with the subsequent approval of further biotech crops.

As a result, most of the findings of the panel have become theoretical," EU trade negotiator Raimund Raith said. "There's no basis for claiming that the [EU] is maintaining the moratorium."