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US, EU to Intensify Work on Rice, Other Disputes

7/13/09 - Reuters - View Source

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - Eager to build on the resolution of a dispute over beef, the United States and European Union's trade chiefs said on Monday they will intensify work on other matters ranging from rice to online gambling.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton met in Washington and afterward announced four bilateral trade issues they would focus on in the coming weeks and months.

These involve U.S. rice exports to the EU; a disagreement over online gambling laws; a dispute over rights to play Irish music; and the trade implications of chemical regulations.

"Today was not a day to resolve any problems, but rather to set out the approach we are going to take, who would do what, and to agree to keep in touch," Ashton told reporters after the talks with Kirk.

All four areas "we think are ripe to be looked at again to see if we can find a creative solution," she said. She also planned meetings on Monday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

A long-standing dispute on banana trade was not listed as one of the issues where work would be intensified, but Kirk and Ashton discussed it and agreed to "work with all parties" to try and solve it, their statement said.

Latin American growers of bananas and U.S. distributors have repeatedly challenged the EU's banana import regime which gives favorable treatment to bananas from countries that are mainly former European colonies.

Ashton said she and Kirk did not discuss an EU-U.S. conflict over subsidies to aircraft companies Airbus EAD.PA. and Boeing (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), but noted it was important and "I don't rule out the possibility that at some point we'll want to discuss that too."


Last month the United States and EU reached an agreement to end a two-decades-long row over an EU ban on hormone-treated beef, by increasing the European import quota for other beef.

This "underscored that even disagreements that have persisted for many years" can be solved through pragmatic approaches, the joint U.S.-EU statement issued on Monday said.

The rice controversy dates back to 2006 when the European Union effectively halted imports of U.S. rice after finding trace amounts of an unapproved type of genetically modified rice in shipments.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has since approved the rice variety, designed to withstand application of a herbicide farmers use to kill weeds, but the EU's strict testing rules remain.

"Discussions on this issue among European Commission and U.S. government agriculture and trade experts will continue in the coming weeks," the EU-U.S. statement said.

European online gambling firms lost billions of euros in value after the U.S. Congress three years ago made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to make payments to online gambling sites. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has introduced legislation to reverse the ban, but the outlook is unclear.

Ashton said she and Kirk discussed a recent EU report that said U.S. Internet gambling laws hampered trade.

They asked staff to explore options to solve a conflict over payment of royalties by U.S. bars and restaurants for playing copyrighted Irish music, the subject of a WTO dispute.

They also agreed to initiate "a practical dialogue on the trade implications of chemicals regulation in the United States and the EU," their joint statement said.

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