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 EU. The outcome of that complaint may have far reaching implications for the global governance of GMOs and for international trade relations.  Here you can find details of the history to the dispute, what happened in the dispute and ways to access further information .

Timeline and latest news


31st March 2006

GeneWatch has prepared a short note on the dispute panel's interim report and a paper outlining the next steps in the dispute:

  • GeneWatch briefing on the Dispute Panel's interim report
  • Next steps in the WTO dispute
28th February 2006

GeneWatch has now acquired the full WTO dispute panel report. The report is in two parts:

9th February 2006

The conclusions and recommendations of the WTO dispute panel report now are available on the Trade Observatory website.

Download report, (787Kb PDF)

7th February 2006

WTO Dispute Panel issues interim report. According to press reports, the WTO's Dispute Panel has determined that Europe's moratorium on GM crop and food approvals between 1998-2004 contravened trade rules. It has also said that the national bans by six member states on some GM crops approved before the moratorium, also broke trade rules.

Industry commentators are expressing their pleasure at the ruling. They believe that the decision will mean that markets outside Europe will be open for GM crops. The use of the dispute to bully other countries into accepting GM foods was always the unstated intention of the complaint.

4th January 2006

There has again been a delay in the publishing of an interim report. According to trade diplomats a report is unlikely before February 2006

Read Reuters report

3rd January 2006

An interim report of the Dispute Panel is expected 5th January 2006.

Some commentators are already claiming that the USA has 'won' and that the bans on GM crops in some EU member states will be found to violate WTO rules. Other information suggests that the WTO will confirm that GM crops and foods are not the same as conventional non-GM crops and foods, a major blow for the USA and its allies.

Read more

July 2005

A journal article version of the earlier academic Amicus Curiae submission has been published in the Yale Journal of International Law:

"Adjudicating the GM Food Wars: Science, Risk, and Democracy in World Trade Law"
by David Winickoff, Sheila Jasanoff, Lawrence Busch, Robin Grove-White, and Brian Wynne.

Read article(307KB)

Yale Journal of International Law: Vol 30 No 1, Winter 2005

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28th February 2005

The EU Commission's DG Trade held a civil society dialogue meeting in Brussels, which was attended by GeneWatch.

Read GeneWatch notes on the meeting

22nd February 2005

A bitter harvest- Europe's bureaucrats have caved in to American pressure over GM, but the decision can be overturned.

GeneWatch Director, Dr. Sue Mayer together with Professor Robin Grove White of the Institute for Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy at Lancaster University. Put forward their views on the WTO battle between the EU and the US over GM crops and food.

Read article in The Guardian

21st/22nd February 2005

The Dispute Panel heard the final oral submissions from the Parties. The Panel will not receive any more evidence but will now consider their findings.

17/18th February 2005

Dispute Panel and parties met with the scientific experts selected to advise the Panel on technical matters.

Two scientists came from the USA, two from Europe, one from Australia and one from Brazil. Three were ecologists or expert in assessment of environmental risks. The identity of the six experts has not yet been disclosed.

7th February 2005

GeneWatch has recently obtained copies of further submissions made by the dispute parties.

Read more

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8th November 2004

The EU has initiated a dispute against Canada and the United States in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The EU is challenging the sanctions imposed by the Canada and the United States because of the EU's ban on beef from cows given certain growth promoting hormones.

Read the EU's press release

2nd November 2004

The WTO dispute panel has issued the following announcement:

The Panel in European Communities in Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products (WT/DS291, WT/DS292 and WT/DS293) indicated in its communication to the DSB of 20 August 2004 (WT/DS291/26, WT/DS292/20, WT/DS293/20) that it expected to issue its final report to the parties by the end of March 2005. However, as a result of the time taken to identify and select experts and, more importantly, in view of a joint request by all four parties that they be granted additional time to prepare their further submissions to the Panel, it will not be possible for the Panel to issue its final report to the parties by the end of March 2005. The Panel estimates that it will issue its final report to the parties by the end of June 2005

22nd August 2004

The WTO dispute panel has decided to appoint scientific advisors. This suggests they see merit in Europe's case.

Read more in our WTO update

28th July 2004

GeneWatch understands that the WTO dispute panel investigating this case, has now decided to have a second oral hearing in early September 2004. After this hearing. they will decide whether or not to seek scientific advice.

The USA, Canada and Argentina say there is no need for scientific advice because this is a procedural matter. Europe is arguing that in a complex matter which relates to the risks of GMOs, the dispute panel has to take wider advice. The Panel's decision on this point will give the first pointer to where they see the strengths of the case lying.

Read more in our WTO update

Read the US submission on the need for scientific advice (70kb PDF file)

19th July 2004

The USA submits its rebuttal to the European case.

Read the executive summary of the US rebuttal (94kb PDF file)

Read the full US rebuttal (255kb PDF file)

19th July 2004

The European Commission has again bowed to pressure from the US and given authorisation for the import of Monsanto's NK603 under Directive 2001/18/EC. The Commission made this decision after Member State Environment Ministers failed to come to any decision.

This authorisation does not allow for cultivation, and in fact the maize won't even be imported into the EU until it also receives authorisation under the Novel Food Regulations (258/97/EC). Member State  Agricultural Ministers also met on 19th July to decide upon this authorisation and like the Environment Ministers failed to come to a decision. It is now expected that the EU Commission will again override the Member States and give NK603 food use authorisation in September this year.

Read the European Commission press release.

1st July 2004

The oral evidence submitted by the EU to the WTO dispute panel in early June is now available online.

Read the evidence

5th June 2004

The EU has published its submission to the WTO. Although submission was made on 17th May 2004 it was not made publicly available until today.

Read statement from the EU Commission (DG Trade)

Read the full submission (747kb PDF file)

2nd June 2004

The USA has given its first oral evidence to the WTO dispute panel.

Read full submission (98kb PDF file)
Read summary (62kb PDF file)

1st June 2004
A third amicus curiae brief is submitted by the following coalition;
  • Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
  • Friends of the Earth - United States (FOE - US)
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
  • Organic Consumers Association - United States (OCA - USA)

Read more on the CEIL website.

27th May 2004

A coalition of public interest groups have made an amicus curiae (a friend of the court) submission to the WTO Dispute Panel.

View submission

25th May 2004

Campaigners deliver a petition to the WTO signed by more than 100,000 citizens from 90 countries and more than 544 organizations representing 48 million people.

The Petition called upon the WTO to;

  • not undermine the right of the European Union and others to take appropriate steps to protect their citizens and the environment from GMO food and farming;
  • dismiss the complaints of the United States of America, Argentina and Canada.

Read more

24th May 2004

Norway makes a 3rd Party submission supporting the arguments of the EU.

Read the submission (802KB)

May 2004

A trans-Atlantic group of academics has made an amicus curiae (a friend of the court) submission to the WTO dispute panel.

Read more

19th May 2004

The EU Commission bowed to pressure from the USA, when it authorised the import of Syngenta's GM maize line BT11(1) for food and animal feed in the European Union. This maize can now be used as whole sweet corn either fresh or (more likely) as tinned sweet corn. This is the first authorisation of a GM plant or food in the EU since 1998…

Read more

27th April 2004

On 21st April, the USA made its first submission to the WTO's dispute panel. There are two clear messages that emerge from the 118 page document:

  • The US has no interest in the wishes of European people to introduce improved rules protecting human health and the environment and to provide choice whether or not to eat GM foods and grow GM crops. As such, it illustrates how the US simply wants to bully countries into accepting the technology on terms favourable to the biotech industry and US farmers.
  • Whilst stating that Europe had no scientific justification for its moratorium, the legal argument is not based on the substantive issues surrounding safety and choice, but on whether Europe followed proper procedures. In effect, the US is using technicalities to push its agenda forward.

GeneWatch background notes.
Copy of the US WTO submission (340kb PDF file).
Guardian Article: US seeks £1bn from Europe over GM ban. By Paul Brown - 27th April 2004.

21st April 2004

Canada made its first submission to the WTO's dispute panel.

Read the submission (957kb PDF file)

April 2003

On the 19th April the new European regulations covering the authorisation, traceability and labelling of all genetically modified food, feed and products produced from GMOs, came into force in the EU.

On 27th April EU Member State ministers met but failed to agree on the commercialisation of GM maize line Bt11. Because they could neither agree to reject or accept the application, the decision could now pass to the EU Commission.

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4th March 2003

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi appoints the panel that will rule on the US/Canadian/Argentinean complaint against Europe. The panel include;

  • Christian Haberli, Head of the International Affairs at the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (panel chair)
  • Mohan Kumar, India's Deputy High Commissioner in the Diplomatic Mission in Sri Lanka
  • Akio Shimizu, Akio Shimizu, a law professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan

The first step of the panel will be to meet with the dispute parties to agree working procedures and a timetable for submissions.

22nd September 2003

New EU regulations, Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and Regulation (EC) N0 1830/2003 covering the authorisation, traceability and labelling of all genetically modified food, feed and products produced from GMOs. However it is expected that it will take until Spring 2004 before they are implemented and the regulations on traceability on may take to the end of 2004 before implementation.

End September 2003

The establishment of the WTO panel to consider the dispute should have been completed. However, informal sources reveal that the list of suggested 5-6 panelists from the WTO has “not survived” - both the EC and US disagreed on their professional and geographical background.

29 August 2003

The WTO's Dispute Settlement Panel establishes a single panel to examine all three complaints of the USA, Canada and Argentina against the European Communities ó Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products. The representatives of Australia, China, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Thailand, Uruguay and Chinese Taipei reserved their third-party rights to participate in the Panel's proceedings.

WTO Press Release

7th August 2003

Argentina, Canada and the US request the establishment of a panel by the Dispute Settlement Body.

3rd June - 19th July 2003

GM Nation? the public debate on GM crops and food was crammed into four weeks. For more read the report by GeneWatch UK 'GM Nation?': Learning the lessons. (151kb pdf file) and see the public debate section of our website.

29th June 2003

The USA originally claimed that Egypt would file a complaint with the WTO against the EU along with Argentina, Canada and the US. When the Egyptians fail to do so the US responds by suspending free trade talks with Egypt.

Financial Times report.

23 June 2003

President George Bush publicly attacks the EU's moratorium on GM crops and food, at a biotechnology conference in Washington. He said, "Because of these artificial obstacles, many African nations avoid investing in biotechnology, worried that their products will be shut out of important European markets. For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology."

Guardian article

June 2003

Cartegena protocol on Biosafety is ratified by the 50th country, Palau, which triggers the process of the protocol becoming law on 11th September 2003.

17th June 2003

The European Union accepts requests by WTO members Chile, India, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Columbia and Australia to join the consultations requested by Argentina, Canada and the USA. The EU states that whilst the trade of most of these countries is not directly affected by this dispute its outcome will have long term implications for their own national regulations.

13th May 2003

USA, Argentina, and Canada make a request to the Chairman of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body for consultations with the EU.

"EU's Illegal, Non-Science based Moratorium Harmful to Agriculture and the Developing World" (pdf, html)
"European Commission regrets US decision to file WTO case on GMOs as misguided and unnecessary" (html)

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October 2002

EU Member States fail to reach agreement on traceability and labelling GMOs and products derived from GMOs. The EU moratorium stays in place.

17th October 2002

Revised EU Directive (2001/18/EC) covering field trials and commercial release of GM crops comes into force. This is followed by many marketing applications being re-submitted under the regulations and talks of the EU de-facto moratorium ending. See Guardian article Seeds of Doubt for more detail.

Summer of 2002

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announces there will be a public debate on GM crops and food and that this will go ahead in parallel with two other enquiries - one to look at the science behind GM issues and another to look at the economics.

February 2002

Whilst giving oral evidence to the House of Lords select committee on the European Union, Minister-Counsellor for Agricultural Affairs, for the US Embassy London, Mr Peter Kurz, states that the drop in US Maize exports for the US to the EU is costing the US $200 million annually. He further argues that the 'Traceability and Labelling Regulations' proposed for the EU increase costs to the US.

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October 2001

During an EU Environment Ministers Council meeting, France, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands and Sweden all reject the Commission's plans to restart the GMO approval process, insisting that the traceability and labelling regulations must be in place before the moratorium is lifted.

July 2001

The EU Commission proposes legislation amending Directive 2001/18/EC on traceability and labelling and assures the US that the moratorium will be lifted within weeks.
GeneWatch briefings for MEPs on the new regulations

June 2001

The WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade discusses the new EU proposed traceability and labelling legislation. Canada and Egypt raised concerns that the labelling would contravene WTO rules.


52.6m ha of GM crops grown world-wide, majority are in the USA (35.7m ha), other major countries are Argentina and Canada. The crops are soybean, maize, oilseed rape and cotton all modified to be herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant.

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September 2000

Starlink GM Maize - approved for use in the US only for animal consumption - is found in taco shells sold in the U.S. BBC online articles:

August 2000

Italy bans GM maize lines T25, MON810, MON809 and Bt11 using safeguard measures under the Novel Food Regulations (EC) No. 258/97

June 2000

French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, speaking on behalf of the moratorium Member States, insists on the inclusion of a liability scheme for biotechnology products.

April 2000

Austria bans GM maize line T25 using article 16 of the Deliberate Release Directive (90/220/EEC).

March 2000

Germany bans GM maize line CG00526-176 using article 16 of the Deliberate Release Directive (90/220/EEC)

January 2000

Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety is signed by over 130 countries. This covers the transboundary movement (export) of GMOs and requires safety assessments and consent of the importing country. BBC article: Controls agreed on GM imports

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December 1999

WTO 'seizing control of GM trade' - BBC on the early talks at the WTO meeting in Seattle, reports that the US is applying pressure for the issue of trade in GMOs to be dealt with by the WTO rather than under the emerging UN Biosafety protocol. This also marks the beginning of the sustained pressure applied by the US to the EU, via the WTO, to break the moratorium.

June 1999

Five EU Member States - Denmark, France, Greece Italy and Luxembourg - declare de-facto moratorium until the EU Commission introduce legislation for traceability and labelling of GMOs and products derived GMOs. In addition the countries of Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden state they will take a "thoroughly precautionary approach" in dealing with marketing applications and urge the Commission to make proposals for the traceability and labelling regulations as soon as possible.

June 1999

Austria bans GM maize line MON810 using article 16 of the Deliberate Release Directive (90/220/EEC).

Spring 1999

Farm-scale trials begin following pilot study in 1998.

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November 1998
Greece and France ban GM oilseed rape line Topas 19/2 and France bans oilseed rape lines MS1 and RF1. All use Article 16 of the Deliberate Release Directive 90/220/EEC)
October 1998
UK Government announce voluntary agreement with industry to not commercially grow GM crops in the UK until a series of 'farm-scale trials' are carried out.
August 1998
AgrEvo's (now Bayer's) herbicide tolerant maize line T25 is given marketing consent for IMPORT into the EU.
Insect resistant maize line MON810 owned by the Monsanto is given EU marketing consent for IMPORT AND CULTIVATION.
These are the last GM crops to be given approval in Europe.
June 1998
Insect resistant maize line Bt11 from Northrup King (now Syngenta) is given marketing consent for IMPORT.
March 1998
Iceland is first UK supermarket to ban GM ingredients from their own brand products. They are followed in 1999 by the other major supermarkets and food manufacturers.

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May 1997
New EU 'Novel Foods Regulation' comes into force meaning GM foods must be assessed for safety and labelled if foreign DNA or protein is in the final product. Derivatives, such as oil from soybeans, are excluded from labelling because they do not contain DNA or protein.
February 1997
The first herbicide tolerant maize is given EU marketing consent for IMPORT AND CULTIVATION. Line GB00526-176 is owned by Novartis and has been genetically modified to be tolerant to be toxic to the European Corn Borer.
Austria and Luxembourg immediately ban this GM maize line using article 16 of the Deliberate Release Directive (90/220/EEC).

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Autumn 1996
The new GM soya arrives in the EU and is used in up to 60% of processed foods.
1st May 1996
Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soya (Line GTS 40-3-2) is given marketing consent in the EU for IMPORT ONLY - it is the first whole GM food that can be imported into the EU. (The tomato puree had to be imported as a puree and not as whole 'viable' tomatoes).
Zeneca's GM tomato puree goes on sale in some UK supermarkets.

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