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Canada, U.S. claim WTO win over EU on beef

It won’t mean more exports of Canadian beef to Europe, but a World Trade Organization appeal body has upheld measures that Canada and the U.S. took to retaliate against the European Union’s ban on beef from hormone-treated cattle.

The ruling, released Thursday, “confirmed that Canada is not in violation of any of its WTO obligations,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a release.

The EU has banned imports of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones since 1989, claiming a cancer risk, while Canada and the U.S. both contend that the EU hasn’t proven any “scientific reasons” for such a ban.

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 modified its ban — but the U.S. and Canada, contending that the EU still hadn’t lifted the non-compliant part of its ban, did not lift their duties.

The EU then went back to the WTO, claiming that Canada and the U.S. should have lifted their duties as soon as the EU ban was amended, and that they should have filed a non-compliance complaint at the WTO if they felt the EU hadn’t complied.

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

The EU, Canada and the U.S. all appealed that decision, which ended Thursday with the WTO appeal body reversing the WTO panel’s March 2008 ruling against Canada and the U.S.

Under review

The Canadian government said Thursday it’s “carefully reviewing” the WTO appeal body’s report and will consider its next steps. The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office, meanwhile, said Thursday that “in light of
today’s report, there is no need” for the U.S. to remove its retaliatory duties against the EU.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a release Thursday that the WTO appeal body’s report “confirms that WTO members that are subject to additional duties for failing to bring themselves into compliance with the WTO’s rulings and recommendations must do more than simply claim compliance in order to obtain relief from such duties.”

However, the USTR office also noted in its release that the question of whether the EU’s amended ban is WTO-consistent “remains open.” The USTR said the WTO appeal body’s ruling Thursday finds the March 2008 panel decision contained “legal errors in its analysis of the scientific basis for the EU’s amended ban.”

The WTO appeal body said in its Canada-versus-EU ruling Thursday that it is “unable to complete the analysis” as to whether the EU’s amended ban complies with its WTO obligations.

The appeal body said it recommends that the WTO’s dispute settlement body ask Canada and the EU to launch “Article 21.5” proceedings, to resolve their dispute over whether the EU has in fact removed the WTO-inconsistent part of its ban — and thus whether Canada’s continued retaliatory duties are still legally valid.

The U.S. and other countries have long maintained that the growth hormones in question are safe for use as growth promoters in animals raised for food.

“In fact, the human body is continually making the natural hormones that are subject to the EU’s ban, and these hormones also occur naturally in foods such as eggs and butter, often in concentrations substantially greater than in meat from cattle treated with these hormones,” the USTR noted Thursday.

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