U.S. and 15 others slam EU regulation of farm products at WTO

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States and 15 other countries launched a broadside of criticism at the European Union on Thursday, saying its “hazard-based” approach to regulating pesticides and other “critical tools” used by farmers was damaging livelihoods worldwide.

Their statement, submitted to the World Trade Organization, said the EU’s approach created great uncertainty and diverged from science-based risk assessments, creating disruption that threatened to escalate significantly in coming years.

They called on the EU to re-evaluate its approach to product approvals, use internationally accepted methods of setting tolerance levels for potentially harmful ingredients, and stop “unnecessarily and inappropriately” restricting trade.

The statement was backed by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.

They said farmers needed to be able to access the “full range of safe tools and technologies” in order to meet the challenge of producing more food.

“Yet, our farmers’ choice of safe tools is increasingly undermined by regulatory barriers that are not founded on internationally agreed risk analysis principles and do not take into account alternative approaches to meeting regulatory objectives,” they said.

“This is already having a substantial negative impact on the production, and trade of, safe food and agricultural products, an impact that is likely to increase in the future.”

The statement, sent for debate at the WTO’s Council for Trade in Goods later this month, said the EU had effectively banned some substances that other WTO members regarded as safe.

“In implementing these measures, it appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach onto its trading partners,” they said.

Despite repeated requests at the WTO over the past four years, the EU had not explained what level of protection it was seeking or what risks it was trying to mitigate, and it had ignored comments on draft regulations, they said.

The EU had suggested farmers could find “alternatives” to meet EU rules, but such demands rang hollow, the statement said, since many farmers had no such economically viable options, with a disproportionate effect on millions of agriculture-dependant families in developing economies and least developed countries.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Gareth Jones