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WTO sets up panel in U.S.-Cuba dispute

February 20, 1997

GENEVA (AP) _ The World Trade Organization set up a panel today to settle the dispute between the United States and the European Union over trade with Cuba.

The European Union objects to a U.S. law known as the Helms-Burton Act that authorizes sanctions on foreign companies doing business with Cuba.

The European Union says the law is an attempt by the United States to impose its policies beyond its shores _ a violation of international trade rules. The United States says the law is a matter of national security and hence not subject to review by an international panel.

Appointed to the panel were Arthur Dunkel, a former director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the WTO’s predecessor; Tommy Koh, a senior Singaporean diplomat, and Edward Woodfield, a former New Zealand ambassador to the United States.

The WTO director general, Renato Ruggiero, named the panelists today after negotiations between the two sides failed to produce a compromise.

Sir Leon Brittan, the EU’s top official for international trade, said that progress has been made despite the conflict.

``While our negotiations have not yet produced an outcome that the EU considers sufficient to suspend its action before the WTO, I am determined that we should remain in close bilateral contact,″ he said.

The panel has about six months to make its decision. There are fears the dispute could undermine the leverage of the 2-year-old trade body if the United States refuses to abide by an adverse ruling.

A WTO spokesman said the establishment of the panel in no way precluded independent negotiations between the European Union and the United States.

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