Brussels/La Paz/Washington, December 17, 2001 – U.S. and Argentina use WTO threats to stop GMO bans in Bolivia, Sri Lanka and Croatia. Leaked documents show small countries face overwhelming pressure when trying to implement strict regulations on GMOs. The European Union is under similar pressure.
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) has denounced the U.S. and other pro-biotech countries, like Argentina, for bullying small countries that try to adopt laws prohibiting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). FoEI presented leaked documents from the U.S. and Argentinean governments showing threats to bring World Trade Organization (WTO) action against small countries planning to adopt strict rules on GMOs. Countries like Sri Lanka and Croatia that planned to adopt bans on GMOs have been facing overwhelming pressure. Bolivia, which adopted a resolution banning GMOs in January 2001, has been forced to revoke its legislation due to pressure from Argentina and its agribiotech corporations. The Bolivian resolution imposing a ban on import of products, subproducts and foodstuffs of agriculture origin derived from GM crops was to be for one year from January to December 2001. The Bolivian government pledged in August to extend the ban after December 2001 and to upgrade it to a Supreme Decree having the full force of law. This promise was made on 23rd August 2001 in a written agreement that the Bolivian government signed with farmworker and small farmer groups. FOBOMADE, a Bolivian environmental organization has recently, learned that the government passed a resolution in October revoking the ban without warning the public, or making an official announcement.
“The revocation of the Resolution shows the weakness of our Government in the face of Argentinean pressure and the agribiotech companies said Maria Luisa Ramos from FOBOMADE. “It is outrageous that a small country like ours is forced to accept genetically modified foods, despite public opposition”.
FoEI obtained a leaked memo sent from the Bolivian Mission in Geneva to their Minister of Foreign Affairs. It asserts that “the (Argentinean) soya corporate sector is behind it, because they export five thousand millions of dollars of genetically modified soy to Europe and North America”. In the same memo, the Bolivian Ambassador in Geneva, seems to cave under the Argentina pressure, relaying to her Minister that the Bolivian resolution appears to be overruled by the WTO, saying “the present situation is very sensitive, because the Bolivian Mission considers, that from the point of view of WTO rules, the reasons given by the Argentinean Mission are very valid and our country does not have any solid justification to back the measure adopted.” The Argentineans have been strongly threatening Bolivia for months with WTO sanctions as other documents revealed today by FoEI show. Pressure on countries deciding to adopt strict laws on GMOs is becoming a pattern. Early in the year, the Sri Lanka government drafted a Food Act which would ban GMOs in their country. The Agricultural Counselor from the U.S. Embassy in India threatened Sri Lanka with a challenge of the ban under the WTO which would have cost the country $190 million in penalties if Sri Lanka did not lift the ban. The Food Act was supposed to enter into force in September 2001, but due to the pressure by the U.S. and Australia the ban was deferred indefinitely.
In Croatia, at a roundtable organized by the Croatian Environmental Minister on December 10th, FoEI and the European NGO ANPED denounced the U.S. bullying of the Croatian government to drop its plans to adopt a moratorium on GMOs. In a leaked memo obtained by Green Action – FoE Croatia, the U.S. Embassy says that “if such a ban is implemented the U.S. government must consider its rights under the WTO”. The Croatian Environmental Protection and Zoning Minister Bozo Kovacevic said on December 12th he would not respond to the letter of the U.S. Embassy. The memo also asserts that biotech food products “have been demonstrated to be as safe as conventional food products in the U.S. and elsewhere”. However U.S. groups assert in a letter addressed to the Croatian Minister of Environment in response to this memo, that the U.S. regulatory framework and monitoring policies are inadequate to currently conclude that GMOs are safe.
“The U.S. government s promotion of genetically modified organisms is so aggressive that it is working to overturn other countries laws , said Larry Bohlen from Friends of the Earth U.S. We are calling on our government to stop unilaterally imposing its will on other parts of the world”.
The European Union is under similar pressure The U.S. memo to Croatia also discourages other countries from adopting legal frameworks on GMOs similar to the European Union (EU). The U.S. Embassy “suggests caution in implementing EU biotech directives, which require substantial infrastructure and institutional capacity to carry out.” At present, the U.S. is trying to undermine proposed EU legislation on labeling and traceability and is pressuring the EU to lift its moratorium. The EU has notified the WTO of its new labeling and traceability provisions on GMOs. WTO members can comment on them until the 28th of December, and the European Commission has said they it will make public the comments and questions related to this process. The U.S. fundamentally opposes the proposed regulations. Alan Larson, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs said last week in Brussels that “he was not prepared to accept the premise that there will be no progress on approvals for another two years”. Speculation about a future launching by the U.S. of a trade dispute against the EU through the WTO is growing.
“The World Trade Organization is the instrument that the U.S. and biotech corporations are using to force countries around the world to accept GMOs” said Juan Lopez, Adviser on Genetic Engineering at FoEI. “We call on all governments of the world to stand up to the WTO. Every country in the world should have the right to establish moratoria on the introduction of GMOs until adequate regulatory frameworks and effective monitoring and enforcement capabilities are in place to ensure sound biosafety regulation .”
For more information:
To view the Bolivian resolution on GMOs, and documents from the Argentinian Embassy and Mission and the Bolivian Mission, visit: www.foeeurope.org
To view the Croatian Draft Law, and U.S. memo, U.S. NGO reply to the memo and other background information visit: www.zelena-akcija.hr
Brussels. Friends of the Earth International, Juan Lopez,+32 2 542 01 87, cell phone: +32 477 391 496 and Friends of the Earth Europe, Gill Lacroix, tel. ++32 2 542 01 82
La Paz. FOBOMADE. Maria Luisa Ramos, +591 2 231 0547,+591 2 2422105
Washington. Friends of the Earth U.S., Larry Bohlen, +1 202 783 7400