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U.S. Wins Round in Beef Trade Fight With Europe

May 09, 1997|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States, in a decision that could have major ramifications for global farm trade, has won a preliminary victory before the World Trade Organization in a bitter fight with the European Union over the use of hormones in beef.

U.S. officials, who have seen the initial decision, said a three-judge WTO panel has held that the European Union's ban on U.S. beef treated with growth hormones is not based on sound science.

"Our argument was that in the name of food safety, the EU instituted a discriminatory and protectionist regime that closed its market to foreign imports of beef. Based on our review of the draft panel report, it appears the panel has come down on our side," said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 60-page ruling has not been made public, but was provided to U.S. and European trade officials earlier this week. Both sides have 30 days to file comments before the WTO panel issues its final ruling, which can be appealed by the losing side to a WTO appeals panel.

But if the preliminary outcome is upheld on appeal, it would represent a major victory for American agriculture interests who have argued for years that the EU ban was an unfair trade barrier because it was not based on scientific fact.

It could also set a precedent in the interpretation of a new set of trade rules that went into effect in January 1995 prohibiting countries from erecting trade barriers to agricultural products that are not based on sound scientific evidence.

The United States, the world's biggest exporter of farm products, pushed hard during the last round of global trade negotiations to get just such protections written into international trade rules.

If the United States' position is upheld on appeal, under WTO rules European countries must drop their ban on American beef containing hormones or provide trade compensation in the amount of the injury to American producers.

The U.S. beef industry contends it is losing $250 million annually in potential sales in Europe because of the ban.

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