18 May 1999
Europe to challenge US over beef

by FWi staff

THE European Union (EU) is to seek arbitration from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in its dispute with the US over hormone-treated beef.

Franz Fischler, EU acting agriculture commissioner, said he would challenge the level of sanctions imposed by the US after the EU refused to lift its ban on the beef.

A World Trade Organisation (WTO) deadline calling on the EU to open its markets to US hormone-treated beef expired without event last Thursday (13 May).

Washington is now finalising a European list of agricultural and consumer products which it claims will be targeted with punitive duties totalling $202m.

Mr Fischler said yesterday: “We will certainly challenge this sum, and the US will have to try to justify it before a WTO arbitrator.”

The proposed sanctions are much less than what Mr Fischler described as “the very ambitious claims of the US cattle industry” which had wanted $500m of tariffs.

But the amount is still more than double the sum that the US itself unilaterally applied at an earlier stage of this dispute, Mr Fischler claimed.

Under WTO rules, any arbitration will have to be completed by mid-July.

But it is likely that the EU will attempt to maintain its ban on hormone-treated beef imports at least until the end of the year.

That is when the European Commission expects to know the results of a series of EU studies investigating the safety of hormone-treated beef.

Brussels has already sent “a very detailed scientific report which raises doubts about the safety of the hormones” to the US, claimed Mr Fischler

Washington, however, continues to describe the ban as arbitrary and scientifically unjustified, saying that the report was in summary form only.

“There is no legitimate reason for the EUs unfair restriction on free trade,” said US agriculture secretary Dan Glickman in a statement.