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U.S. complains about EU customs to WTO

U.S. complains about EU customs to WTO

   The Bush administration Tuesday complained to the World Trade Organization about customs procedures and regulations in the European Union.

   The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said many important aspects of the EU customs administration are handled differently by different member state customs authorities, resulting in inconsistencies from state to state, and that there is no single EU customs administration.

   “Lack of uniformity, coupled with lack of procedures for prompt EU-wide review, can hinder U.S. exports, particularly for small to mid-size businesses,” the USTR said.

   The Bush administration believes the EU fails to abide by WTO rules requiring WTO members to administer their customs laws in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner, and also requiring members to provide tribunals for prompt review and correction of administrative action relating to customs matters.

   The European Commission (EC) reacted to the complaint Tuesday by saying it complies with WTO rules on customs, and that it considers that the U.S. complaint “has no legal basis.”

   A request for consultations is the first stage in the WTO dispute settlement process. If the differences over this issue cannot be satisfactorily resolved in consultations, the United States may ask for a WTO panel to be established to rule on whether the EC customs regime complies with WTO rules.

   “We hope there is an opportunity to combine uniformity throughout the EU with Europe’s effort to integrate its 10 new members,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick.

   The USTR said that lack of uniform customs administration by the EU affects U.S. producers, farmers, and exporters in a number of important ways.

   “For example, goods may be classified differently and thus be subject to different tariffs depending on the EU member state through which they are imported,” it said.

   “Similarly, a U.S. exporter may be able to obtain binding guidance in one member state on how its goods will be valued for tariff calculation purposes. But the exporter may not be able to rely on that guidance in another member state; indeed in some member states the exporter may not be able to obtain binding valuation guidance at all,” it added.

   The USTR said it has tried for months to work with the EC to address the concerns of U.S. exporters, but found that the allocation of authorities within the EU and even the commission “has precluded achieving the necessary systemic solutions.”

   Describing its version of the events, the EC said: “The U.S. never raised this issue in the EU-U.S. Joint Customs Council.”

   “The nature of the U.S. concerns are somewhat unclear to the EC, and the U.S. did not exhaust the possibilities of finding a solution through bilateral discussions,” the EC said in a statement on the WTO procedures.

   “WTO law does not require any WTO member to establish a centralized structure dealing with customs, such as a single customs authority,” the EC added.

   Arancha Gonzalez, spokesman for trade at the European Commission, said: “We regret the U.S. move to bring this issue to the WTO rather than using the bilateral EU-U.S. Joint Customs Cooperation Committee, which would have provided a better forum for resolving these issues. We now hope that any disagreement over this matter can be satisfactorily resolved in consultations and that we do not need to move to litigation.”

   The U.S. complaint to the WTO follows an acrimonious dispute involving the United States, the EU and other countries over the U.S. Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act, better known as the “Byrd amendment.”

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