By  on January 14, 2005

WASHINGTON — The office of the U.S. Trade Representative has asked the World Trade Organization to establish a dispute-settlement panel to intervene in a case it filed against the European Union over what it claims are “inconsistent” EU customs laws and regulations.The U.S. charged Thursday that many aspects of the EU’s customs administration vary among its 25 member countries, which often “hinders” small-to-midsize U.S. exporters.The U.S. accused the EU of failing to administer its customs laws in a uniform manner or to provide tribunals for prompt review and correction of administrative action in customs cases. Such “barriers” affected a portion of the $155.2 billion in U.S. exports in 2003 to the EU, the USTR said.Among the barriers U.S. exporters face are nonuniform product classifications among EU member countries, which leads to varying tariff rates and makes it complicated for exporters.“These problems fall particularly hard on small and midsize businesses, which often lack the resources to work their way through member-state and EU bureaucracies in order to reconcile inconsistencies in classification or valuation in different states,” said the USTR in a statement.The issues affect U.S. manufacturers and retailers that operate stores in other countries.Eric Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said one of the key objectives of the current WTO round of global trade talks is a “harmonization of customs rules.”“As this industry becomes more global, not only in terms of sourcing but also in terms of setting up retail operations in other countries, these [customs] issues are becoming more important,” Autor said.

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