In May 2003, the USA, Argentina and Canada made a formal complaint to the WTO about the de-facto moratorium on GM crops and food in the European Union. On 26th September 2006 the final report of the WTO's Dispute Panel was made available.
GeneWatch UK followed the dispute in detail and also made an amicus curiae submission to the dispute panel as part of an international coalition of 15 groups. Since 2003 we have collected a large number of relevant documents and evidence accessible from the topics section on the right of this page.
During 2007, GeneWatch worked with Gene Campaign in India to hold workshops in the UK and India to discuss the implications of the WTO Dispute panel ruling. Details of this work can be found on the blog Understanding the Biotech Dispute
Three years after the initial complaints, the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body finally approved a 1,000 page report. This can be accessed on the WTO website.
The Key Issues:
- It is important to note that the Panel made no finding as to the EC's right to require pre-market approval or the safety of GM products, and it did not revoke the right of WTO Members to choose whatever level of protection they want to provide to their people from risks to human health and the environment - including 'zero-level' risk.
- The Panel found that it did not have to take account of the Biosafety Protocol and its parent treaty, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, because not all of the Parties to the dispute were parties to those treaties. The EC, Canada and Argentina but not the US are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and The EC has ratified whilst Canada and Argentina have only signed the Biosafety Protocol. However international layers have argued that it was illegal for the Dispute panel to do this. Many developing countries have significant biodiversity, agricultural practices and 'GM-free' exports that they might want to preserve through bans or conditions on GM imports imposed in accordance with the Biosafety Protocol. Those developing countries that are also WTO Members could be particularly affected by the Panel's findings in this dispute because they might want to rely on the precautionary principle in imposing bans or conditions on GM imports based on a broad range of risks. They might also have limited resources that make delays in developing a regulatory framework and processing applications for approvals of GM imports likely.
- The European Union choose not to appeal the findings. Before the Biotech dispute, only 20% of the adopted Panel Reports in which the EC was a respondent were NOT appealed by the EC or another party. It was therefore very unexpected that in this case the EU chose not to appeal. The EC's reasoning or process for deciding whether to appeal, including the Commission's consultation or otherwise with the Member States on that question, is not clear. It is possible that the EC decided not to appeal because it felt that it had gotten off relatively lightly and did not want to expose itself to a harsher finding on appeal. It is also possible that the Commission thought that the finding would be helpful in its efforts to persuade some of the EC member states to lift their GM bans. Read GeneWatch press release on EU Decision not to appeal
The European Union's Council of Ministers continues to fail to authorise the marketing of any GM crops food or feed. The Council must have a two thirds majority to pass a new product. Currently the European Commission is exercising it executive power and forcing through the authorisations. Furthermore, despite the WTO ruling specifically finding the national bans of some EU Member states to contravene WTO rules the Council of Minister has not ruled them to be illegal.
- Analysis of The WTO GMO Dispute: Implications for Developing Countries and the need for an appeal By Alice Palmer for GeneWatch UK, the RSPB, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security and the GM Freeze.
- Interpreting WTO Law and the Relevance of Multilateral Environmental Agreements in EC-Biotech (Background note to presentation by Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder) (May 2007)
- Various reports and press releases from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- GeneWatch articles and briefings
- Ranchi 29-30 November 2007 12th December 2007
- New Delhi 17-18 July 2007 1st August 2007
- New Delhi 26-27 July 2007 1st August 2007
- London 28-29 June 2007 10th July 2007
- Civil society and disputes in the World Trade Organisation:Lessons from the EC – Biotech Dispute 7th March 2007
- WTO'S EC-BIOTECH RULING AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES 7th March 2007
- CAN GM AND NON – GM CROPS BE SEGREGATED IN INDIA – IS COEXISTENCE POSSIBLE? 7th March 2007
- A Short History of GM Labelling 7th March 2007
- CIVIL SOCIETY ENGAGEMENT IN THE GM TRADE DEBATE: A DEVELOPING COUNTRY PERSPECTIVE 7th March 2007
- Letter to Peter Mandelson, EC Trade Commissioner calling on Europe to appeal WTO decision 3rd November 2006
- The WTO GMO Dispute:Implications for developing countries and the need for an appeal 2nd November 2006
- GeneWatch comments on WTO GMO dispute panel interim report 31st March 2006
- Next steps in WTO GMO dispute - March 2006 31st March 2006
- The GMO dispute at the WTO: claims of a US victory are misplaced! 3rd January 2006
- Report of meeting between the EU Commission's DG Trade and Civil Society Groups 22nd February 2005
- The US challenge on GM foods at the WTO - Update 22nd August 2004 22nd August 2004
- GeneWatch background note to the first US submission to the WTO dispute panel on GMOs 27th April 2004
- Briefing 25: The GM Dispute at the WTO: Forcing GM Foods on Europe? 1st December 2003
- WTO Report (descriptive), pages 1-248 (1.6Mb PDF) 28th February 2006
- WTO Report (findings) pages 249-1050 (4.3Mb) 28th February 2006
Trade Justice Movement
- has a membership of 50 organisations collectively representing 9 million individuals. Its website provides news and resources on all aspects of trade justice.
Field (the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development)
- works on international legal issues in relation to environmental protection. They have produced a number of reports and papers including - An Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety .
- an umbrella for 120 organisations that have concerns about genetic modification. They have produced a campaign briefing and an action briefing on the WTO dispute, both are available from their website.
The World Trade Organisation
- from this website you can find official documents relating to the dispute by going to the Dispute section - search by subject and then look for 'GMO biotech products'.
Friends of the Earth
- have a campaign on Global Trade and the WTO. Their website contains a wide variety of briefings and reports on various aspects of the WTO.