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Notice

WTO Dispute Settlement Proceeding Regarding Mexico-Tax Measures on Soft Drinks and Other Beverages

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AGENCY:

Office of the United States Trade Representative.

ACTION:

Notice; request for comments.

SUMMARY:

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is providing notice that on June 10, 2004, in accordance with the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO Agreement), the United States requested the establishment of a dispute settlement panel regarding Mexico's tax measures on soft drinks and other beverages as well as on syrups, concentrates, powders, essences or extracts that can be diluted to produce such products (hereinafter “beverages and syrups”) that use any sweetener other than cane sugar.

USTR invites written comments from the public concerning the issues raised in this dispute.

DATES:

Although USTR will accept any comments received during the course of the dispute settlement proceedings, comments should be submitted on or before July 30, 2004 to be assured of timely consideration by USTR.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be submitted (i) electronically, to FR0420@ustr.gov, with “Mexico Soft Drinks (DS308)” in the subject line, or (ii) by fax, to Sandy McKinzy at (202) 395-3640, with a confirmation copy sent electronically to the electronic mail address above, in accordance with the requirements for submission set out below.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Amy Karpel, Assistant General Counsel, Office of the United States Trade Representative, 600 17th Street, NW., Washington, DC, (202) 395-5804.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Section 127(b) of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) (19 U.S.C. 3537(b)(1)) requires that notice and opportunity for comment be provided after the United States submits or receives a request for the establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel. Consistent with this obligation, USTR is providing notice that the United States requested establishment of a panel pursuant to the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). If a dispute settlement panel is established pursuant to the DSU, such panel, which would hold its meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, would be expected to issue a report on its findings and recommendations within six to nine months after it is established.

Major Issues Raised by the United States

On June 10, 2004, the United States requested the establishment of a panel regarding Mexico's tax measures on beverages and syrups that use any sweetener other than cane sugar. Those measures include:

(1) Law on the Special Tax on Production and Services (Ley del Impuesto Especial sobre Produccion y Servicios or “IEPS”) published on January 1, 2002 and its subsequent amendments published on December 30, 2002 and December 31, 2003; and

(2) any related or implementing measures, including the Reglamento de la Ley del Impesto Especial sobre Produccion y Servicios published on May 15, 1990, the Resolucion Miscelanea Fiscal Para 2004 (Title 6) published on April 30, 2004, and the Resolucion Miscelanea Fiscal Para 2003 (Title 6) published on March 31, 2003 which identify, inter alia, details on the scope, calculation, payment and bookkeeping and recording requirements of the IEPS.

Mexico's tax measures impose a 20 percent tax on beverages and syrups that use sweeteners other than cane sugar. Mexico's tax measures also impose a 20 percent tax on services related to the transfer of beverages and syrups, including the commissioning, mediation, agency, representation, brokerage, consignment and distribution of such products. Beverages and syrups sweetened only with cane sugar, and services related to their transfer, are not Start Printed Page 35122subject to these measures. Mexico's tax measures also impose several bookkeeping and reporting requirements on beverages and syrups, and services related to the transfer of such products, that are not similarly imposed on beverages and syrups sweetened only with cane sugar, or on services related to the transfer of beverages and syrups sweetened only with cane sugar .

The United States considers that Mexico's tax measures discriminate against imported sweeteners other than cane sugar (including high-fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”)), and imported beverages and syrups made with such sweeteners, because Mexico's tax measures do not apply to cane sugar, or beverages and syrups made solely with cane sugar. The United States considers imported sweeteners other than cane sugar, and imported beverages and syrups made with such sweeteners, including HFCS and beverages and syrups made with HFCS, to be like and directly competitive or substitutable with Mexican cane sugar and beverages and syrups made with Mexican cane sugar.

USTR believes the tax measures are inconsistent with Mexico's national treatment obligations under Article III of the GATT 1994, in particular GATT 1994 Article III:2, first and second sentences, and GATT 1994 Article III:4.

Public Comment: Requirements for Submissions

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments concerning the issues raised in the dispute. Comments should be submitted (i) electronically, to FR0420@ustr.gov, with “Mexico Soft Drinks (DS308)” in the subject line, or (ii) by fax, to Sandy McKinzy at (202) 395-3640, with a confirmation copy sent electronically to the electronic mail address above.

USTR encourages the submission of documents in Adobe PDF format, as attachments to an electronic mail. Interested persons who make submissions by electronic mail should not provide separate cover letters; information that might appear in a cover letter should be included in the submission itself. Similarly, to the extent possible, any attachments to the submission should be included in the same file as the submission itself, and not as separate files.

Comments must be in English. A person requesting that information contained in a comment submitted by that person be treated as confidential business information must certify that such information is business confidential and would not customarily be released to the public by the commenter. Confidential business information must be clearly designated as such and “BUSINESS CONFIDENTIAL” must be marked at the top and bottom of the cover page and each succeeding page.

Information or advice contained in a comment submitted, other than business confidential information, may be determined by USTR to be confidential in accordance with section 135(g)(2) of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2155(g)(2)). If the submitter believes that information or advice may qualify as such, the submitter—

(1) Must clearly so designate the information or advice;

(2) Must clearly mark the material as “SUBMITTED IN CONFIDENCE” at the top and bottom of the cover page and each succeeding page; and

(3) Is encouraged to provide a non-confidential summary of the information or advice.

Pursuant to section 127(e) of the URAA (19 U.S.C. 3537(e)), USTR will maintain a file on this dispute settlement proceeding, accessible to the public, in the USTR Reading Room, which is located at 1724 F Street, NW., Washington, DC 20508. The public file will include non-confidential comments received by USTR from the public with respect to the dispute; if a dispute settlement panel is convened, the U.S. submissions to that panel, the submissions, or non-confidential summaries of submissions, to the panel received from other participants in the dispute, as well as the report of the panel; and, if applicable, the report of the Appellate Body. An appointment to review the public file (Docket WTO/DS-308, Mexico Soft Drinks Dispute) may be made by calling the USTR Reading Room at (202) 395-6186. The USTR Reading Room is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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Bruce R. Hirsh,

Acting Assistant United States Trade Representative for Monitoring and Enforcement.

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[FR Doc. 04-14239 Filed 6-22-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3190-W4-P