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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK

Business: The Economy

EU bans US beef

First beef threatens trade relations

The United States and the European Union are heading for another trade row, this time over beef.

The European Union has announced it will be ban all beef imports from the United States.

BBC correspondent Richard Quest: Latest dispute more about noise than results
Beef from cattle fed on hormones has been banned by the European Union since 1988 on the grounds that it is not safe.

But now the EU says it cannot be sure that beef certified as hormone-free by US inspectors does not contain the banned substances - so it will ban all beef from 15 June.

The move came as members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) met in Geneva to consider a request by the United States to overturn the ban entirely.

[ image: Europeans do not want hormones in beef]
Europeans do not want hormones in beef
The United States and Canada have already secured a ruling from the World Trade Organisation that the original ban on hormone-fed beef is illegal under international trade law. It says that there is no scientific basis for the ban.

Gerard Walsh, Economist Intelligence Unit: Ban has been in place for ten years
The EU has until 13 May to comply with that ruling. However, the US government had promised the Europeans not to export any hormone-treated beef before this deadline.

"We are disappointed to see that once again the EU is failing to meet its WTO obligations," US trade ambassador Rita Hayes told the meeting.

The United States and Canada have threatened to introduce sanctions against EU products if no agreement is reached.


EU Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan said that he was 'anxious to engage in urgent discussions to resolve this issue promptly'.

Recent talks have centred around how North American beef entering the EU should be labelled in order to ensure consumers have enough information to make an informed choice.

Hormones are widely used in US agriculture, but the EU says it is still studying the scientific evidence on their safety.

EU Ambassador Roderick Abbott told the meeting that the Europeans had wasted no time in beginning a risk analysis, but conceded the work might not be complete by the May deadline.

Former Tory trade minister Lord Young warned the Institute of Directors on Wednesday that a 'crisis' was brewing the US-EU trade relations.

"We might see this as a health risk but Washington will see this as a pure protection. We are turning Europe into Fortess Europe for Food," he said.

The total amount of US beef sold in Europe is only $20m - but any questioning of its safety is seen as a threat to the massive US agricultural export sector.

Trade wars escalate

The trade wars between the United States and Europe have been escalating.

Last month the US introduced sanctions against a range of European products in order to force the EU to agree to import more 'dollar bananas' from Central America.

There are also flashpoints over aircraft noise, with the EU threatening to ban from European skies US aircraft engines fitted with hush-kits.

Although the EU and the United States are each other's biggest trading partners, the growing imbalance in world trade is leading to tensions.

The US is running a huge trade deficit with the rest of the world, and has said that it cannot continue to bear all the costs of the world's economic slowdown.

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