EU agriculture ministers agreed on Monday to delay new wood packaging rules aimed at keeping out tree-eating insects that the United States has complained would disrupt $80 billion worth of its exports, officials said.
BRUSSELS EU agriculture ministers agreed on Monday to delay new wood packaging rules aimed at keeping out tree-eating insects that the United States has complained would disrupt $80 billion worth of its exports, officials said.
The insects, which lurk in wood packaging used for a wide variety of products, can emerge to destroy European forests.
From March 1, all wood packaging imported into the EU will have to meet international standards that cover pallets, cases, crates and loose packing. Materials such as plywood, chipboard and thinner woods used in fruit boxes will be exempt.
But in a move designed to soothe transatlantic tensions and proposed by the EU's executive Commission, the EU will not require that bark be stripped off pallets and other wooden materials until one year later, from March 1, 2006.
"This compromise is a win-win situation, allowing the EU to implement already significantly strengthened rules while allowing our EU partners to adjust ... for the future," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told a monthly meeting of Europe's agriculture ministers.
The United States complained that its wood packaging industry had not had enough time to prepare and raised questions about the necessity of the de-barking measure. It was joined by several other countries, including Canada, China and Mexico.
"The Commission responded quite favourably. They didn't want to irritate the Americans," one EU diplomat said.
"The de-barking requirement will be suspended for a year," he said. "Phytosanitary concerns are not being sidelined and we are not about to walk into a trade dispute over this."
The new EU standards, set by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation, require that timber packaging must be either heat-treated or fumigated to kill off certain insects that burrow into wood and then emerge to wreak havoc in forests.
The two insects that the EU particularly wants to keep out are the Asian Longhorn Beetle, which flies long distances and eats into hardwood trees, and the Pine Wood Nematode, a tiny eelworm that causes trees to wilt, turn yellow and then brown.
The near-disruption of trade caused by the EU directive was a failure of the "early warning" system set up years ago by Washington and Brussels to alert each other of potential problems, a senior Commission official said last week.