WTO case over beef hormones continues to drag on

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Observers of the years-long trade dispute between Canada, the U. S. and the European Union, over the EU’s block on the two other countries’ beef, now wonder if the World Trade Organization can ever make it all stop.

The EU on Dec. 22 announced yet another request for “consultations” at the WTO with Canada and the U. S., which for years have put up retaliatory trade sanctions against EU products in the dispute.

The EU has banned the use of growth-promoting hormones and the import of meat treated with hormones since the 1980s. Canada and the U. S., claiming no valid scientific basis for the EU ban, first took it to the WTO in 1996.

“We are convinced that our legislation on hormones is fully in line with WTO law: the restrictions on hormone-treated beef are based on solid scientific evidence showing risks for human health,” said Peter Power, spokesperson for EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, in an EU release.

“We are thus very confident and hope that the U. S. and Canada will engage constructively in these consultations and that we can find a solution to this long-lasting dispute,” Power said.

The U. S. has argued that the human body already generates the hormones that are subject to the ban, and that they also occur naturally in foods such as eggs and butter, often at concentrations higher than those in beef from hormone-treated cattle.

The WTO, in 1999, allowed both Canada and the U. S. to slap retaliatory duties on imports of certain food products from Europe. In late 2003, the EU amended its ban – but the U. S. and Canada didn’t lift their duties, arguing that the EU’s changes made no difference to the non-WTO-compliant part of the ban.

The EU then went back to the WTO, claiming that Canada and the U. S. should have lifted their duties and filed a new non-compliance complaint at the WTO.

To that, a WTO panel then ruled in March this year that the EU’s amended ban still didn’t comply with international trade rules. The panel, however, also ruled the U. S. and Canada shouldn’t have kept their duties in place without first getting a WTO ruling.

The EU, Canada and the U. S. all appealed that decision, which wound up in October with a WTO appeal body reversing the WTO panel’s March ruling against Canada and the U. S.

But the appeal body in October also recommended the WTO’s dispute settlement body ask Canada and the EU to launch “Article 21.5” proceedings, to resolve their dispute.

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