The trade war between the US and Europe intensified yesterday after the Bush administration made an official complaint over EU customs procedures.
The US has asked the World Trade Organisation to investigate its claims that the EU is impeding imports, especially from small and medium-sized business. The action comes as the two sides prepare for talks to seek a settlement over multibillion-pound state aid for the aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing.
The Office of the US Trade Representative said there were inconsistencies in the way customs were handled across member states. The EU is required to have uniform tariffs among its members, but variations in the way they categorise imported goods can lead to different tariffs on the same product, it said.
"An importer has to wend its way through member states and EU bureaucracies in order to reconcile inconsistencies in classification or valuation in different states," the Office said.
It pointed out that EU authorities have conceded there should be a single customs administration and that it decided to press the issue because of the EU's recent enlargement from 15 to 25 states.
The EU said the US had a "very weak" case. Anthony Gooch, its spokesman in Washington, said he was surprised the US had taken this action as it had failed to get any US companies to come forward with evidence.
Christopher Roberts, a former director of trade at the Department of Trade and Industry who advises the law firm Covington & Burling, said: "I suspect the European Commission would not be totally averse to having this issue sorted out by the WTO as it would help give them a greater ability to ensure consistency among these 25 customs authorities." Iain MacVay, the European head of international trade at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, said the action could be a sign Washington was looking for "political chips" in its bargaining with Europe.Reuse content