Associated Press

Geneva, Januray 26:

The United States and the European Union launched formal trade disputes against each other, asking the World Trade Organisation to rule on the legality of Brussels’ customs rules and Washington’s continued sanctions against the EU because of a ban on hormone-treated beef imports.

Both sides asked for the creation of a dispute settlement panel after failing to settle their differences in direct talks, trade officials said. Both used a WTO procedure to block the creation of the panel at Tuesday’s meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, but they can do this only once, the panels will likely be set up at another WTO meeting in coming weeks.

The panels usually take months, or even years, to issue a final ruling.

Washington claims the EU is failing to respect the global trade rules set by WTO because it has a complex set of customs regulations that vary from country to country in the 25-nation bloc. The United States said this amounts to a trade barrier because it makes it harder for foreign companies to enter the European market.

However, trade officials said, the EU said this criticism was wrongheaded, claiming WTO rules do not say how responsibility for customs regulations should be spread among EU countries. In the beef hormone dispute, Brussels has asked the WTO to condemn the United States — as well as Canada — for failing to lift sanctions. The EU claims it has complied with a previous WTO ruling on beef imports.

The WTO ruled in 1998 that the EU’s ban was illegal because of a lack of solid scientific evidence. In retaliation, the United States and Canada impose about $125 million (euro96 million) worth of duties each year on European products such as French Roquefort cheese, truffles, mustards, and other delicacies.