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No easing of US stance on EU biotech policy - US aide

(Monday, March 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Randy Fabi, Reuters: CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The chief U.S. agriculture negotiator last week assured American farmers the Bush administration had not eased on its campaign against the European Union's biotech policy.

Allen Johnson, top farm negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, said the United States was "losing patience" with the EU and was still considering filing a formal trade complaint for its refusal to approve new genetically modified crops.

"I know from the outside sometimes it looks like we've stopped, but we haven't," Johnson told reporters after addressing an annual convention of U.S. corn and soybean farmers.

There is broad support within the U.S. Congress and among agriculture groups for filing a complaint. It is estimated that U.S. farmers lose around $300 million a year in sales to the EU because of its refusal to allow new types of biotech crops in.

About 70 percent of U.S. soybeans and one-third of U.S. corn is grown from genetically modified seeds.

Congressional sources and U.S. agriculture industry officials said recently the Bush administration had apparently put off a decision to file the WTO complaint against the EU because it did not want to further strain relations with Europe in the event of war with Iraq.

"We never gave a timeline on when we were going to do this," Johnson said. "But I think the issue is still very alive and we are still heading in the same direction."

However, on Jan. 21, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told reporters: "My guess is over the next couple of weeks we'll get together and we'll have a sort of high-level discussion" within the Bush administration on the matter. Zoellick has said he favors taking action against the EU.

Subsequently, Cabinet-level meetings to decide the question were canceled, according to government and industry sources.

Johnson said the United States has the support of several countries should it decide to file a complaint.

European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was expected in Washington next week to defend the EU's go-slow stance on opening its market to biotech foods.

The EU has said any U.S. action at the WTO over biotech foods would only undermine consumer confidence in the technology just as Europe is recovering from a series of food scares over mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease.