EU negotiator at WTO accused of losing control over GMOs

The EU's negotiator has come under attack from EU member state environment ministers who are concerned that attempts to get environmental issues onto the World Trade Organisation agenda have resulted in the EU losing its authority to control genetically modified organisms.

Pascal Lamy, the EU’s top negotiator at the WTO meeting in Seattle, has struck a deal that would add environmental issues onto the meeting’s agenda, but NGOs and EU member state environment ministers have accused Lamy of paying too high a price. Lamy’s agreement for the creation of a WTO biotechnology working group is seen as his contribution to the environmental compromise. In exchange for environmental issues being included in WTO discussions, Lamy has gone against the EU common position on biotechnology.

The EU common position was agreed prior to the commencement of the WTO talks. It states that: “Europe is not a demandeur for a WTO biotech working group [and that the EU] rejects requests to deal with biotech exclusively on trade grounds.” Critics of Lamy’s decision to agree to a biotech working group argue that it contravenes the statement that the EU “rejects any attempt to undermine the EU right to regulate biotechnology”.

UK daily The Guardian quoted UK environment minister Michael Meacher’s opposition to Lamy’s deal: “This is intolerable, totally unacceptable and unprecedented. The Commission did not have the competence to give this away.”

Lamy defended the deal, which has pleased the American delegation, at a press conference on 2 December. “On biotechnology, I made it clear to the EU Council of Ministers that we have no intention of changing the calendar for ratification of the biodiversity convention. But the EU cannot stand alone on environmental or other topics, so carefully controlled discussion on this issue in the WTO is justified,” said the trade negotiator.

The WTO meeting in Seattle has been the subject of large-scale protests, with many delegates also unhappy with the organisation’s methods for agreeing global trade liberalisation. At the same 2 December press conference, the EU’s Lamy agreed that reform of the WTO is necessary. “We are deeply worried about the WTO process,” he admitted. “The procedures are medieval … [and] we should consider holding a Ministerial conference just to improve the WTO procedures. I support the idea of producing a parliamentary body that could scrutinise the WTO process.”

Thus far, the Millennium Round has been unsuccessful in drafting any document for signing. The deal concerning GMOs in exchange for environmental issues is only a sub-agreement that allows talks aimed at negotiating a wide-ranging WTO document to inch forward.

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