(June 2, 2009) The European Community (EC) and the United States have had a longstanding dispute on hormone-treated beef. In the early 1990s, due to consumer concerns about food safety arising from mad cow disease, the EC introduced a ban on all imported beef that was treated with growth-promoting hormones. Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, such prohibitions are allowed as long as the party imposing the ban provides scientific evidence to the effect that food safety is at risk. The United States and Canada brought an action against the EU before the WTO, which subsequently ruled against the EU. (5.3 The Hormones Case, WTO website, http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/sps_e/sps_agreement_cbt_e/c5s3p1_e.h
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On May 13, 2009, representatives from the European Union (EU) and the United States, in an effort to find a temporary solution to the dispute, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Geneva that will give U.S. producers additional access, with no duties, to the EU beef market for beef produced from cattle that have not been treated with growth-promoting hormones. The parties also agreed to suspend for the first 18 months that the MOU is in force any action before the WTO on the EU's compliance with the WTO's decision against the EU on this issue. (Press Release, Rapid, Memorandum on Beef Hormones Dispute Signed with the United States (May 13, 2009), Europa website, available at http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/09/239.)
The MOU includes three phases. During the first phase, which is expected to last three years, the United States will maintain a reduced level of sanctions against EU products of US$38 million, instead of $116 million. The EU will permit a tariff rate quota for imports of 20,000 tons of untreated beef at zero duty.
During the second phase, which will last for one year, the EU will increase the permitted amount of imported beef to 45,000 tons, and the United States will suspend application of any additional import duties on EU products.
During the third phase, which will commence at the end of the fourth year, the EU will maintain the 45,000-ton quota of beef imports and the United States will continue not to apply any increased import duties on EU products. (Press Release, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Statement on U.S.–EU Beef Hormone Agreement (May 13, 2009), United States Mission to the European Union website, available at http://useu.usmission.gov/Article.asp?ID=8170E9E5-92B0-4538-906A-488DB32
Ambassador Ron Kirk, the U.S. Trade Representative, stated that he was happy “that we've found a way to get substantial quantities of high-quality U.S. beef back into an important market that has been largely closed for far too long.” He added, “the EU remains one of the few markets to ban beef from cattle given growth-promoting hormones – beef that is perfectly safe to eat – but we see this agreement as a pragmatic way forward.” (Id.)