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US and Australia criticise EU's proposed EDC restrictions

EU and USA flag ©weyo Fotolia

The US and Australia have complained to the WTO that hazard-based EU proposals to regulate endocrine-disrupting substances (EDCs) in biocidal and plant protection products will harm international trade.

The US went a step further, arguing that the proposals could violate a WTO agreement on agricultural sanitation measures.

On 4 October, the European Parliament vetoed the European Commission's pending EDC proposal for plant protection products. The action was based on objections to provisions that would exempt some substances with endocirne-disrupting properties from the criteria.

Documents submitted to the WTO by the US and Australia on 8 November say that the EU appears to be moving toward stricter criteria that would lead to even more substances being classified as EDCs, and subsequently banned.

The submissions came as WTO members began a regular three-year review of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement.

The US and Australia, along with other countries, such as Canada, have argued since the EU began consultation in 2014 that a hazard-based approach to regulating biocides and pesticides labelled as endocrine disruptors would have a significant impact on agricultural trade.

The latest US statement argues that the EU proposals violate the TBT agreement’s requirement that "technical regulations are not more trade-restrictive than necessary," as well as the WTO agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) governing health-based restrictions on agricultural imports. The SPS agreement requires that such measures be based on "an appropriate assessment of the actual risks involved," according to the WTO.

The US acknowledged the EU's position that its "legal framework mandates the establishment of hazard-based criteria," but said this does not "relieve the EU of meeting its obligations under the WTO TBT or SPS Agreements".

"For these reasons, we urge the EU to consider seriously the concerns" voiced by WTO members "as it moves forward with its next steps in establishing criteria to identify and ultimately regulate substances with the potential to disrupt endocrine systems".

Australia urges risk-based exemptions

Australia urged the EU to adopt "risk-based derogation elements" as a "concurrent consideration with the criteria components" of its EDC proposal.

"The risk-based elements of the derogation align with the scientific, risk-based regulatory approach of Australia and other key trading partners. This will ensure that safe chemical use can continue as part of modern, sustainable agricultural practice, and trade is not unnecessarily restricted."

Both countries said they are especially troubled by a statement submitted by the European Commission in July suggesting that EU legislation precludes establishing maximum residue levels (MRLs) and import tolerances (ITs) "for substances banned due to the hazard-based cut-off criteria".

"Producers around the world are concerned that they will no longer be able to export products to the EU if MRLs for banned substances are set at default levels and ITs are refused," the US said. "This would not only adversely impact agricultural producers and consumers, but would also harm EU food importers and manufacturers who source ingredients from third countries."

A "2016 independent analysis" estimated "damage to US exports" at nearly $5bn and "global trade damage" at over $75bn, the statement said.

For further details of the Australian complaint visit AsiaHub

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