Letter from the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue to President Bush

George W Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500

1 May 2002

Dear President

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), the forum of the major consumer organizations in the United States and the European Union, awaits with interest the outcome of the EU-US summit on May 2, 2002. We are also pleased to have been invited to meet with the Presidents, as it is important that civil society's concerns have a place at the table. We hope that, at this summit, you will consider several matters that are of great concern to consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

In particular, we hope that this summit will result in a pledge by the US not to challenge the new EU labeling and traceability policies on GMOs at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The EU proposals must not be weakened because consumers everywhere want such labeling and protection.

TACD continues to urge the governments of the EU and the US to adopt comprehensive mandatory labeling, including labeling of derivatives, and mandatory pre-market safety testing and approval systems for genetically modified food. We are pleased that the EU and US were able to agree on guidelines for safety assessment of genetically engineered plants, and on the role of tracing in risk assessment and management, at a recent Codex Alimentarius meeting.

We urge the governments to seriously explore EU proposals on establishing systems of traceability. The recent episode with Starlink corn, a genetically modified variety not approved for human consumption, found in many parts of the US food supply and in some corn exports, demonstrates how the ability to track the movement of genetically engineered crops could be beneficial both to consumers and retailers and processors.

Access to Medicines

We welcome the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and access to medicine. That declaration was the product of advocacy from developing countries concerned about their ability to protect the public's health. The US and the EU made a bargain with these countries in order to obtain negotiations on some issues for which the US and EU advocated. Now, we must make good on that bargain, particularly in relation to the outstanding issue of WTO rules for exports of medicines, a topic mentioned in paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration.

We call upon the US and EU governments to urge the WTO to embrace a clear statement that exports of medicines will be permitted under Article 30 of the WTO TRIPS accord. Every country must have the right to seek practical mechanisms to provide access to medicine for all, an objective of paragraph 4 of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS. The Article 30 approach would ensure that patent owners benefit from protections (either exclusive rights or compensation) in markets where patents have been obtained and products are used, while allowing importing countries, including those with small domestic markets or gaps in domestic technological capacity, to seek the lowest cost qualified supplier.

The US and the EU have indicated that such an exception to the exclusive rights of a patent be limited. This can be accomplished by allowing such Article 30 exports only when "the importing country certified the product is needed to address an important public health concern." This addresses the legitimate concerns of the US and the EU that the export exception be limited, while providing a practical mechanism to ensure that countries in Africa and elsewhere (including those in developed economies), can effectively address abuses of patent rights.

We also note that if developing countries are barred from using Article 30 of the TRIPS to authorize exports of medicines, they will seek other alternatives, such as simplified procedures for exports under Article 31.k of the TRIPS, a practice that may have important consequences outside of the medicines area.

Trade in Services

The WTO Services negotiations raise serious concerns for consumers particularly in relation to access to essential goods and services and consumer and environmental protection.

To address these concerns, TACD recommends that all documents in the WTO services negotiations be made public in a timely fashion. Also, the right of governments to provide and regulate basic services in the consumer interest should be broadly asserted in a new article of the WTO services agreement. The right of governments to provide access to basic services must be recognized in the agreement and the right of governments to assure the provision of critical services - health, education, telecommunications, water and energy utilities - should be protected by revising the government exemption in the agreement to make it self-defining. It has not escaped TACD's notice that both the EU and the US are requesting commitments in the energy sector, an issue of great concern to consumers and environmentalists alike.

The imposition through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of "necessity tests" or requirements to only implement measures that are "the least trade restrictive" must be rejected and the GATS articles on market access and national treatment must be amended to clearly state that they do not apply to non-discriminatory domestic regulations.

Finally, we urge the EU to reconsider its WTO GATS draft requests (April 2002) that include requests for many nations to eliminate all restrictions on the distribution of alcohol and tobacco. This could have a significant impact on public health around the world. It also underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the negotiations. We urge the US and the EU to unilaterally pledge to make WTO GATS request/offer documents publicly available in a timely fashion.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Wallis, TACD Coordinator
On behalf of the TACD Steering Committee

Anna Bartolini, President, CNCU (Italian National Council of Consumers and Users)
Benedicte Federspiel, International Director, Forbrugerrċadet (Danish Consumer Council)
Jean Ann Fox, Director, Consumer Protection, Consumer Federation of America
Rhoda Karpatkin, President Emeritus, Consumers' Union
Felix Cohen, Director, Consumentenbond (Dutch Consumers Association)
Ed Mierzwinski, Director, Consumer Program, Public Interest Research Group
Jim Murray, Director, BEUC (European Consumers Organisation)
Lori Wallach, Director, Global Trade Watch, Public Citizen

Food-05pp-00, TACD position paper on GMOs
Letter to USTR Zoellick and Commissioner Lamy re Doha Declaration on TRIPS
Trade-11-01, TACD position on Trade in Services

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