Johnson Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Charles E. Hanrahan Senior Specialist in Agricultural Policy
United States and the European Union (EU) have engaged in a long-standing and acrimonious
trade dispute over the EU’s decision to ban hormone-treated meat. Despite an ongoing
series of dispute settlement proceedings and decisions by the World Trade
Organization (WTO), there is continued disagreement between the United
States and the EU on a range of legal and procedural issues, as well as
the scientific evidence and consensus concerning the safety of hormone-treated
beef. To date, the EU continues to ban imports of hormone-treated meat and restricts
most meat exports to the European Union to a limited quantity of beef imports
that are certified as produced without the use of hormones.
Starting in 1981, the EU adopted restrictions on livestock production limiting
the use of natural hormones to therapeutic purposes, banning the use of
synthetic hormones, and prohibiting imports of animals and meat from
animals that have been administered the hormones. In 1989, the EU fully
implemented its ban on imports of meat and meat products from animals treated
with growth promotants. Initially the ban covered six growth promotants
that are approved for use and administered in the United States. The EU
amended its ban in 2003, permanently banning one hormone—estradiol-17β—while
provisionally banning the use of the five other hormones.
The United States has suspended trade concessions with the European Union by
imposing higher import tariffs on EU products. The first U.S. action in
1989 imposed retaliatory tariffs of 100% ad valorem duty on
selected food products, and remained in effect until 1996. The second U.S. action
in 1999 again imposed a 100% ad valorem duty on selected food products
from EU countries, and remains in effect to this day.
Over the years, the United States and the EU have attempted to resolve this
dispute through a series of WTO dispute consultations, settlement panels,
arbitration proceedings, and formal appeals. One of the earlier WTO panel
decisions in 1997 ruled against the EU on the grounds that the ban is
inconsistent with the EU’s WTO obligations under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)
Agreement because the EU had not conducted a risk assessment. In response, the
EU commissioned studies and reviews to address the scientific basis of its
ban on hormone-treated meat. Following each of these reviews, the EU
reaffirmed its position that there are possible risks to human health
associated with hormone-treated meat, given the available scientific data.
The EU claims it has complied with its WTO obligations and has challenged the
United States for maintaining its prohibitive import tariffs on EU
products. The United States disputes whether the EU has conducted an
adequate risk assessment to support its position and maintains there is a clear
worldwide scientific consensus supporting the safety to consumers of eating
hormonetreated meat. In October 2008, the WTO issued a mixed ruling
allowing the United States to continue its trade sanctions, but allowing
the EU to maintain its ban.
In January 2009, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced its intent to
make changes to the list of EU products subject to increased tariffs under
the dispute, including changes to the EU countries and products affected,
and higher tariffs on some products. The EU claimed this action constituted
an “escalation” of the dispute. In May 2009, following a series of
negotiations, the United States and the EU signed a memorandum of
understanding (MOU), which phases in certain changes over several years.
In May 2011, USTR announced it was terminating higher duties for imported
products listed under the dispute. USTR continues to monitor EU implementation
of the MOU and other policies affecting market access for U.S. beef exports.
Date of Report: November 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 35 Order Number: R40449 Price: $29.95
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