WTO dispute

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

The Ruling

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.

Further reading


↑ Top