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WTO cases Brussels, 18 March 2010

EU and Argentina settle WTO case on Genetically Modified Organisms

This page describes past events and is no longer updated.

The European Union and Argentina have signed in Buenos Aires a final settlement of the WTO dispute that Argentina brought against the EU in May 2003 regarding the application of its legislation on biotech products. The mutually agreed solution provides for the establishment of a regular dialogue on issues of mutual interest on biotechnology applied to agriculture. The EU and Argentina will notify this settlement to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body as a mutually agreed solution. A settlement of the WTO dispute that Canada brought against the EU regarding the same issue was already reached on 15 July 2009.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said: "This is the second settlement regarding the WTO case on GMOs that is reached. This is certainly a recognition by Canada and Argentina as much as the EU that the best approach to this complex issue is a regular dialogue. I hope the United States, the only remaining WTO complainant in this dispute, will soon come to the same conclusion."

The European Commission has held regular discussions on biotech-related issues with the three complainants in this case – Canada, Argentina and the United States - since the adoption of the WTO panel report in 2006.

Similarly to the settlement reached last year with Canada, the settlement reached with Argentina provides for bi-annual meetings between competent services of the European Commission and
Argentinean authorities regarding the application of biotechnology to agriculture and related trade issues of mutual interest, including:

  • The follow up of the authorisation processes of genetically modified products of interest to the Parties, both in the EU and Argentina;
  • The measures related to biotechnology which may affect trade between Argentina and the EU, including measures adopted by the EU Member States;
  • Specific issues which arise in the context of requests for authorisation submitted to regulatory evaluation;
  • The exchange of information on the trade impact of asynchronous authorisations of genetically modified products;
  • The evaluation of the economic and trade outlook of future authorisations of genetically modified products;
  • The renewal of authorisations of genetically modified products;
  • The exchange of information regarding other relevant issues in the field of agriculture biotechnology, including new legislation in the field in the field of biotechnological agriculture, or coordination mechanisms to solve eventual cases of adventitious presence of non-authorised GMOs in shipments of authorised products.

This dialogue is aimed at an exchange of information that would contribute to avoiding unnecessary obstacles to trade. This dialogue does not prejudice EU action on individual product authorizations for GM products which will continue to follow the normal process and procedure.

Background

Following a complaint by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU on the application of its legislation on biotech products, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted on 21 November 2006 three panel reports which found a violation of the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement on three grounds:

  • The application of a general de facto moratorium on approval of GM products from June 1999 to August 2003
  • The existence of undue delays with respect to 23 product-specific applications (out of the 27 cases considered by the Panel)
  • National safeguard measures introduced by 6 Member States before the establishment of the panel, which were found not to be based on an appropriate risk assessment

Subsequently, the EU and the three complainants (US, Argentina and Canada) agreed to engage in technical discussions on biotech-related issues, which would not be limited to issues of implementation of the WTO panel recommendations. The EU and the complainants also reached an agreement for a 12-month Reasonable Period of Time for implementation (i.e. until 21 November 2007). The complainants agreed to further extend the RPT until 11 January 2008, where they would take stock of progress and decide the way forward.

The complainants have taken different positions in view of the expiration of that extended RPT:

(a) Argentina and Canada have agreed to several extensions of the RPT until 31 March 2010 and 31 July 2009, respectively. Technical discussions with Argentina and Canada have continued to date. The EU and Canada reached a mutually agreed solution of their dispute on 15 July 2009.

(b) The US made a general retaliation request on 17 January 2008. On 6 February 2008, the EU objected to the US retaliation request. The matter was referred to arbitration under Article 22.6 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding at the special meeting of the DSB held on 8 February 2008. On 15 February 2008, and according to the sequencing agreement concluded between the US and the EU, both parties requested the suspension of Article 22.6 procedures. The chairman of the arbitration panel suspended those procedures on 18 February 2008. Those procedures can only be resumed following the examination of compliance of the panel report by the EU through an arbitration procedure under Article 21.5 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). The US and the EU continued technical discussions in 2008. The last round of discussions took place in October 2008.

For further information :
- Questions and Answers on the settlement of the WTO dispute between Argentina and the EU on GMOs (MEMO)
- More on the GMOs dispute : USACanada and Argentina 
- Dispute settlement at the WTO : Overview