EU starts immediately WTO action if US sanctions Total

Apr 23, 1998 02:00 AM

The European Union has said it would immediately start a new World Trade Organisation (WTO) case against the United States if Washington punished French Total SA for investing in Iran.
Since late last year, the U.S. State Department has been reviewing whether a $ 2 billion agreement by Total, Russia's Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas to develop a major Iranian gas field violates a U.S. law against investment in the energy sectors of Iran or Libya.
The EU maintains that such " extraterritorial" U.S. laws, which seek to bind foreign corporations and business executives, break global trade rules.
Nigel Gardner, spokesman for European Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, said the EU would start a new WTO case if the United States took action against any European company under any " extraterritorial" law, whether at federal or state level.
Specifically, he said that any U.S. action against Total would bring a new EU WTO complaint in response.
"If the U.S. authorities decide to sanction Total, we will have no hesitation in starting that (WTO disputes) panel straight away," Gardner told.
" Our political goal...is to keep the level of pressure constant on the U.S. authorities and to try to reach a negotiated settlement," he said.
He acknowledged that if the EU started a new action, there would be a delay of six to eight weeks before the formation of a disputes panel while the two sides held consultations - the first step in the WTO disputes procedure.
As part of last April's understanding, the EU agreed to suspend the WTO disputes panel probing the Helms-Burton act in exchange for a pledge by President Bill Clinton's administration to work for a softening of the law.
Clinton has several times postponed a provision in the Helms-Burton act which would let US citizens sue companies using confiscated property in Cuba. The United States and the EU have held frequent talks in an attempt to solve the sanctions row.

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