Congressional Research Service


Date of this Version



Published by Congressional Research Service, 7-5700,, RS21556


In May 2003, the United States, Canada, and Argentina initiated a dispute with the European Union concerning the EU’s de facto moratorium on biotechnology product approvals, in place since 1998. Although the EU effectively lifted the moratorium in May 2004 by approving a genetically engineered (GE) corn variety (MON810), the three complainants pursued the case, in part because a number of EU member states continue to block already approved biotech products. Industry estimates are that the moratorium costs U.S. corn growers some $300 million in exports to the EU annually. Corn gluten exports from the United States to the EU have been blocked since 2007 because of a zero tolerance policy governing the accidental presence of non-approved U.S. GE corn in such shipments.

On November 21, 2006, the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted the dispute panel’s report, which ruled that a moratorium had existed, that bans on EU-approved GE crops in six EU member countries violated WTO rules, and that the EU failed to ensure that its approval procedures were conducted without “undue delay.” The EU announced it would not appeal the ruling. The United States and EU agreed on November 21, 2007 (subsequently extended to January 11, 2008), as a deadline for EU implementation of the panel report. On January 11, 2008, the U.S. Trade Representative announced that, while it was reserving its rights to retaliate, it would hold off seeking a compliance ruling while the United States sought to normalize trade in biotechnology products with the EU.

In the meantime, co-complainants Canada (July 15, 2009) and Argentina (March 18, 2010) have reached “final settlements” in the biotech dispute with the EU. Canada, Argentina, and the EU notified the DSB of their mutually agreed solution under Article 3.6 of the DSU. The parties agreed to establish a bilateral dialogue on agricultural biotech market access issues of mutual interest.

U.S. agricultural and trade officials continue to criticize the EU for its biotech approval processes. During the second session of the 111th Congress, Members with agricultural interests may debate the issue of whether to continue a dialogue with the EU on re-establishing trade in biotechnology products or to seek retaliation for presumed lack of EU compliance with the panel decision.