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WTO to investigate EU banana rules

The European Union's import rules for bananas will be once again investigated by the World Trade Organization.

The move reviving one of the longest-running disputes within the WTO was requested by the United States, which claims that the EU's banana regime favors producers from African and Caribbean countries over exporters from the U.S. and Latin America in contravention of global trade rules.

The WTO has consistently ruled against how the EU sets tariffs for the fruit, forcing the 27-nation bloc to overhaul a system that grants preferential conditions mainly to former British and French colonies.

Latin American producers and banana companies based in the United States have long complained about the preferences. The U.S., in 1999, and Ecuador a year later both won the right to impose trade sanctions on European goods after the Geneva-based trade referee found the EU's rules to be illegal.

The WTO will now convene a compliance panel to decide whether Brussels has implemented this ruling, after the EU blocked a first request for the panel's establishment.

The rules are already being investigated because of a similar request by Ecuador in March. Colombia has since initiated its own complaint against Brussels' tariffs. Jamaica, Cameroon, Panama, Nicaragua, Japan, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Dominica have also asked to be consulted in the case.

U.S. trade officials said they delayed requesting the panel in the hope of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Europeans.

EU officials said they regretted that the panel had been set up and questioned whether the United States had an interest in the case considering it does not produce or export bananas itself.

A deal in 2001 gave the EU five years to comply with WTO rulings. Brussels says a new banana tariff established last year - US$234 (EUR170) per ton - has brought its banana rules into compliance.