U.S. News

Bush takes one last jab at Europe over farm trade

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States launched a World Trade Organization complaint on Friday against an 11-year-old European Union ban on imports of U.S. chicken, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Friday.

A caged hen feeds at a farm in San Diego County in this picture taken July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

It was the second trade salvo in two days against long-standing farm trade issues with the EU by the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush.

“This is obviously a parting shot by the Bush administration,” a European trade diplomat told Reuters, noting Schwab always had a tense relationship with Brussels.

“The key question now will be: Will (President-Elect Barack) Obama’s administration carry out these threats and continue from where Bush left off, or will they take a more liberal approach?” the diplomat said.

EU farm ministers rejected a proposal in December to lift Europe’s ban on imports of U.S. poultry treated with chlorine washes, routinely used to kill pathogens.

The European Commission says it does not ban U.S. poultry, and applies the same rules to domestic and imported poultry.

The ban has soured Brussels’ relations with Washington, its largest trading partner, since the embargo began in April 1997.

Scientists from the United States and European Union have deemed the treatments safe, Schwab said.

“The poultry treatments at issue have been widely and safely used in the United States for many years,” Schwab said in a statement.

The EU was using “bogus sanitary barriers” for protectionist reasons, American poultry groups said in a statement that cheered Schwab’s move.

The United States had shipped about $50 million in poultry annually to the EU before the ban, and has since lost other markets like Romania and Poland as those countries joined the EU, said Toby Moore, a spokesman for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

The Bush administration had put the poultry ban at the top of its list of trade irritants to try to resolve with the European Union at a series of discussions through the Transatlantic Economic Council, which began in April 2007.

But EU officials said last year efforts to resolve the spat had failed. France has been particularly opposed to allowing imports of U.S. chlorine-washed poultry.

“We regret the U.S. decision to resort to WTO dispute settlement on this issue. We will carefully study the U.S. claims and will engage in consultations in good faith,” the European Commission said in a statement on Friday.

On Thursday, the United States said it would target a new list of European food products with sanctions because of a ban on U.S. beef treated with growth hormones, in place since the early 1980s.

The ban costs U.S. ranchers more than $116 million in trade each year, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said.

European beef, pork, poultry, chewing gum, chocolate and other items will face steep U.S. duties as of March 23.

The EU said it would challenge the new U.S. sanctions at the World Trade Organization.

Europe’s top business group said it was concerned by the two trade actions, and hoped the new Obama administration would continue talks held by the Transatlantic Economic Council.

“We hope both sides can sort this out amicably,” said Eoin O’Malley, senior advisor on international trade at BusinessEurope.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Darren Ennis; Editing by Marguerita Choy); Reuters Messaging:; 202 898 8376