[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

European Union Might Seek WTO Panel

Reuters: European Union Might Seek WTO Panel on Massachusetts Burma Law

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, Dec. 17 (Reuters) - European Union officials said on Wednesday they
would be considering in the coming weeks whether to ask the World Trade
Organization (WTO) to set up a dispute panel to look into a Massachusetts
law on business in Burma.

The officials, who asked not to be named, were speaking after a third and
final round of talks with U.S. officials on the issue under the WTO?s
dispute settlement procedure. 

The officials said there had been "no progress on substance" in the
discussions. Asked if the EU would now seek a panel, one replied: "That is
a question we will have to ask ourselves in the next few weeks."

The Massachusetts law sets a pricing penalty on state procurements ? or
purchase of goods and equipment by state authorities ? from companies that
do business with Burma and its military government.

Purpose of the law, one of several against Burma and other countries viewed
as violating human rights being passed by state and city legislatures
across the United States, is to discourage U.S. and foreign firms from
exploiting "slave labor."

The EU, supported by Japan, argues that the measure violates WTO rules and
the 1994 Government Procurement Agreement, part of the global trade treaty
that set up the WTO.

All three powers were signatories to the agreement, which bars
discrimination on political grounds in assigning official contracts.

The EU says it shares U.S. concerns about the human rights situation in
Burma, and has itself withdrawn the special trading preferences it grants
to developing nations.

One EU official said there had been no indication at the Wednesday talks of
how the U.S. administration was seeking to influence the Massachusetts
government to ensure the law did not violate WTO rules. 

U.S. officials had also provided no time frame for a solution, the official

The next meeting of the WTO?s Dispute Settlement Body is set for late
January, and Brussels would have to give 10 days notice if it wanted to put
the issue on the agenda.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky has strongly criticised the
EU decision to start up the WTO dispute process, saying this was "a
counter-productive step" while efforts were underway to solve the problem.

But the EU argues that the growing "sanctions" movement in the United
States has to be challenged when states and cities championing it take
measures that in effect extend their legislative reach to foreign firms.

Brussels and Washington have been discussing for over a year the so-called
Helms-Burton law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 aimed at preventing
most investment in Cuba, and the EU has suspended WTO action while a
solution is sought.

However, that dispute has been aggravated by new legislation aimed at
penalising foreigners who invest in the oil industries in Libya and Iraq
[sic] ? viewed by Washington as terrorist states.
Editorial Correction: the last paragraph of the Reuters story incorrectly
states that the United States has passed legislation that penalizes foreign
investors in Iraq. In fact, the United States has passed a law penalizing
foreign investors in Iran. Iraq is under sanctions imposed by the United