June 11, 2008 / 11:21 AM / 11 years ago

EU sees trade protectionism on rise in U.S.

BRUSSELS, June 11 (Reuters) - The European Union has accused the United States of taking a more protectionist stance on trade, sometimes apparently in the guise of national security.

The EU expressed concern to the World Trade Organisation earlier this week about measures such as stricter scanning requirements for cargo entering U.S. ports.

“While recognising the U.S.’s commitment to expanding trade liberalisation..., we have noted with certain concern that there are signs of growing protectionism in a number of areas,” said the EU statement to the WTO, distributed to media on Wednesday, a day after a farewell summit with President George W. Bush.

Europe is “concerned that some of the import measures applied on security grounds could be used as a disguised form of protectionism,” it said.

The EU hinted it might challenge the scanning requirements at the WTO.

The 27-country bloc and the United States are the world’s two biggest exporters with two-way trade worth 1.7 billion euros ($2.6 billion) every day.

Disputes often crop up. The United States has accused the EU of breaking trade rules on cases including state support for the aerospace industry or its ban on imports of some food products.

The disputes affect only 2 percent of bilateral trade but the EU said it detected a “worrying tendency” that U.S. trade policy was “under the influence of special interest groups.”

FARM TRADE

The EU also expressed concern about the prospect of new, higher U.S. farm subsidies, at a time when the United States is under pressure to cut such subsidies to help conclude the WTO’s long-delayed Doha round of negotiations for a world trade deal.

The potential for increased hand-outs is included in a new Farm Bill written by the U.S. Congress.

“The (EU), like others, remain concerned that we are seeing less commitment to multilateralism than in the past, especially since the U.S. has always been the main proponent as well as the beneficiary of the multilateral system,” it said.

Brussels also voiced frustration over U.S. restrictions on foreign ownership of airlines and in public procurement markets.

The statement was delivered by the EU to a two-day WTO review of U.S. trade policy going on this week in Geneva.

Brussels and Washington said on Tuesday they were committed to fighting protectionism at the U.S.-EU summit.

A former WTO director-general said on Wednesday he was worried about a growing “rhetoric of protectionism” around the world,” particularly in rich countries.

Peter Sutherland, now chairman of oil major BP (BP.L), echoed the concerns of many Europeans about trade-sceptical comments by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and he warned against dismissing them as mere campaign talk.

“It is dangerous to say the rhetoric won’t be translated into action when that person is in office,” Sutherland told the European Policy Centre think-tank. “The plain reality is there has been naked protectionism in some of the statements made, particularly on the Democratic side. One has to be worried.”

He also noted growing challenges to the merits of freer trade expressed by some European leaders. (Reporting by William Schomberg and Paul Taylor)

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