US to Target EU Customs System
World Trade Organization filing aimed at the ''inconsistencies'' of non-uniform policies and regulations
WASHINGTON, DC - 09/22/04 - The US will file a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the European Union over "a lack of uniformity" in the 25-nation bloc's Customs laws and regulations policies.
According to the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR)), the issue is "that many important aspects of Customs administration in the EU are handled differently by different member state Customs authorities, resulting in inconsistencies from state to state."
Although the EU also serves as a Customs union, there is no single EU Customs administration and that "lack of uniformity," the USTR said, "coupled with lack of procedures for prompt EU-wide review, can hinder US exports, particularly for small to mid-size businesses."
Currently, WTO rules require WTO member states to administer their Customs laws in a "uniform, impartial and reasonable manner." They also require members to provide tribunals for prompt review and correction of administrative action relating to customs matters.
The US "considers that the EU fails to meet either of these requirements," USTR Robert Zoellick said when he announced the decision yesterday afternoon to go-ahead with the filing.
Variations in the way that goods are treated by the different EU member states, he said, "can cause problems that burden all traders."
These problems "are compounded by an inability to obtain prompt EU-wide review of national administrative decisions. An importer or other interested party has to wend its way through national administrative and/or judicial appeals before obtaining an authoritative determination from an EU-level tribunal," said Zoellick.
The first step in a WTO dispute is to request consultations. If the consultations do not resolve the dispute, the countries that requested consultations may seek the formation of a dispute settlement panel.
Dispute settlement procedures, including appeals, typically take about 18 months.
According to the written statement issued by the USTR's office, there are three reasons for requesting WTO consultations now.
First, it said, the EU has just recently expanded from 15 member states to 25 member states. The trade barrier inherent in lack of uniform Customs administration expanded when the new member States joined in May.
As an indicator of the level of trade potentially affected by this barrier, "it should be noted that US goods exports to the EU-25 totaled $155.2 billion in 2003.
"By pressing this issue now, we hope to address this problem early in the EU's process of dealing with the challenges of enlargement," it said.
Second, enhancing trade facilitation is a key part of the Doha Development Agenda.
"The United States expects that pressing a major player in world trade to administer its customs laws and regulations in a uniform manner will help to advance that part of the agenda," the statement said.
Third, "over the past months, we have tried to work with the [European] Commission to address the concerns of US exporters?and although [EU Trade Commissioner] Commissioner [Pascal] Lamy and his staff have tried to help with individual problems, it has become clear that the allocation of authorities within the EU and even the Commission has precluded achieving the necessary systemic solutions," it said.
"We will continue to work with the EU to try to resolve our concerns over their Customs administration," said Zoellick. "We hope that the consultations we have requested today will help address some of the problems faced by US exporters, and in the process strengthen the integration of the EU."
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