Vlaemminck makes failed appeal on behalf of fruit seller in WTO v European law status

A Belgian boutique has been battling for the rights of a banana importer in his fight for the recognition of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rulings in Europe.

Philippe Vlaemminck, managing partner of six-lawyer Ghent-based Vlaemminck & Partners, has been acting on cases concerning the trade of bananas and other fresh produce for more than 15 years. The firm specialises in European and trade law.

Vlaemminck’s client, Léon Van Parys, is a Belgian banana importer who, in 1998 and 1999, applied to the Belgian Intervention and Refund Board (BIRB) for import licences for quantities of the fruit. The BIRB refused to issue Van Parys with licences for the full quantity of bananas, and Van Parys accordingly launched proceedings against the board.

The company said that WTO agreements meant it should have been given the licences, but the Belgian authorities thought this would have breached quotas imposed by Europe.

The Belgian government referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which in its ruling on 1 March decided that European law takes precedence over WTO rules. The judgment means that organisations are unable to claim damages when European and WTO regulations are at odds.

Earlier this year, another banana company, Chiquita, lost a similar case in the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg. The ECJ ruling serves to add weight to that decision.

Vlaemminck commented: “It means that, if this reasoning stands, any implementation of WTO law is now outruled forever.”