The United States underscored Friday its opposition to a new European Union plan to allow member states to block genetically engineered imports after bilateral talks on a transatlantic free-trade pact.
"It is hard to square this proposal with either EU long-standing internal obligations or their aspiration for a seamless internal market," said Dan Mullaney, the assistant U.S. trade representative for Europe and the Middle East.
"We are still studying the proposal implications but we hope that the EU will move forward in a way that respects our decades-old rules on trade," he added.
Mullaney was speaking at a news conference following the ninth round of U.S.-EU trade negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership held this week in New York.
His remarks echoed those of U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who said the U.S. was "very disappointed" by Wednesday's EU proposal to allow the 28 member states to individually decide whether to allow the import of genetically modified organisms or food, animal feed and other products made with them.
Under current rules if a GMO is judged safe for human consumption by the European Food Safety Agency, then the Commission must agree that it can be grown or imported without restriction in the EU. Individual states though could justify opting out by reasons unrelated to risks to human and animal health and the environment.
On Friday, the Commission cleared 19 new GMO products for use in the EU, 11 of them from U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto, including genetically modified varieties of soybeans, maize, rapeseed and cotton.
"We are pleased that the Commission is acting on long-standing biotech applications, but this does not remedy a proposal to allow EU member states to ban products deemed safe by Europe's own scientists," said Mullaney, the head of the U.S. negotiating team at the TTIP talks.
Speaking at the same news conference, chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said the opt-out proposal was "consistent" with the rules of the World Trade Organization and "maintains fully the role of science in the authorization process."
"Any measure taken by the member states will have to be on a non-discriminatory base. We feel it's a proposal which is fully compatible with our international obligations and that in no way undermines our negotiations with the United States," Bercero said.
If agreed, the TTIP would be the world's biggest trade deal, linking about 60% of the world's economic output in a market of 850 million consumers.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015