The Bush administration gave notice on Thursday that it will pursue an unfair trade case accusing the 25-nation EU of operating a confusing tariff system that harms the ability of US exporters to make sales.
The administration alerted the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) that it wanted a hearing panel formed after failing to resolve differences in negotiations with the EU.
American goods can often be classified differently, depending on which country an exporter chooses as the port of entry, according to a statement from the administration.
US exporters are also unable to get a firm ruling on what border tax will be imposed on their products from one EU country to another, even though all EU nations are supposed to offer a single set of tariff schedules, the administration contended.
The WTO will consider the issue at its next meeting on Jan. 25, but the EU has the power to block a hearing panel from being established until February.
When a hearing panel is established, both sides will submit written arguments on the matter. A ruling will not come for several months.
Anthony Gooch, a spokesman for the EU in Washington, said the US was pursuing a case which appeared to have little support among US exporters, given the small number of companies that responded to a request published in the Federal Register for American companies to provide the administration with examples of problems they have encountered.
"We think the US case is very weak," Gooch said. "They haven't come up with any evidence that US companies are being harmed."