Europeans to Discuss Duties on U.S. Goods
European foreign ministers will likely delay implementation of tough duties on some U.S. imports in an effort to defuse tensions over a ban on hormone-treated meat from America, officials said Friday.
The foreign ministers of the 12 nations of the European Community will meet Monday to discuss the conflict sparked Jan. 1 when the trading bloc banned imports of U.S. meat from cattle treated with growth hormones.
The United States retaliated by imposing, also on Jan. 1, higher tariffs on a variety of products from the community, also known as the Common Market.
Nico Wegter, a community spokesman, said the foreign ministers will be asked to implement as soon as possible counter-measures that would slap stiff duties on American dried fruit and walnuts. The package was tentatively approved earlier this month by the governments’ representatives in Brussels.
But other officials said a number of countries apparently want to defer setting an effective date in order to give the two sides more time to resolve the dispute, particularly with George Bush taking office as President.
Many countries, said one official, want to “see if there’s still a possibility of getting the new Administration moving.”
The officials, who demanded anonymity, said the ministers may also want to await the outcome of a Feb. 8 meeting of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The EC intends to ask the 96-nation GATT to declare the U.S. retaliatory measures in violation of the international body’s rules.
Moreover, officials have been following reports that some small U.S. slaughterhouses and packaging firms have offered to ship untreated meat to Europe. “It is an encouraging sign and should be explored to see how far this can go,” said an official.
As a result, the officials said, it was likely the foreign ministers would decide to continue watching the situation and discuss it again in February or March.
The dispute was touched off by an EC decision to prohibit for health reasons meat from animals treated with growth hormones. The United States--which exports about $100 million of such meat to the EC annually--contends that the use of certain hormones to fatten animals, a common practice among American farmers, does not pose a health risk.
The United States has urged the Europeans to let GATT’s Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, also known as the Standards Code Committee, decide the issue on scientific grounds.
The EC has insisted that GATT should consider only whether the community has the right to impose such a ban to protect the health of its consumers.
But there was some hint the community was shifting its position.
1-Year Delay on Ban
Frans Andriessen, the EC’s top trading official, told the European Parliament, the community’s legislative body, on Thursday that scientific factors could be considered.
“One doesn’t need to exclude the scientific judgment in the total framework of this problem,” he said.
Wegter denied that Andriessen’s remarks represented a shift, but other officials saw the comments as marking a weakening of the European position.
The meat ban was to have taken effect Jan. 1, 1988, but the trading bloc agreed to a one-year delay. The EC refused further U.S. appeals for a postponement.
In retaliation, the United States imposed 100% duties on boneless beef, pork hams and shoulders and a variety of other European products. The sanctions are worth about $100 million.
Both sides agreed to allow a grace period until the end of January for sanctioned products to enter their borders. This applies to goods in transit before Jan. 1.
The disputed goods represent a tiny fraction of the estimated $166 billion in trade last year between the United States and the Common Market.
Common Market members are: France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.