WTO bowls out Aussie apple imports under-armer

Australia's near 90-year ban on New Zealand apple imports has finally been ruled illegal by a World Trade Organisation panel and the onus is on that country to conform to the finding.Trade Minister Tim Groser has welcomed the decision, saying: “There are some procedural choices ahead of both parties in Geneva before the panel report has the force of international law, such as the right of appeal and cross appeal.“However, fundamentally the ball is in Australia's court.”

Australia’s near 90-year ban on New Zealand apple imports has finally been ruled illegal by a World Trade Organisation panel and the onus is on that country to conform to the finding.

Trade Minister Tim Groser has welcomed the decision, saying: “There are some procedural choices ahead of both parties in Geneva before the panel report has the force of international law, such as the right of appeal and cross appeal.

“However, fundamentally the ball is in Australia's court.”

The WTO panel of independent arbitrators found the restrictions on imports of New Zealand apples were illicit and recommended "that the Dispute Settlement Body request Australia to bring the inconsistent measures...into conformity with its obligations."

Australia banned imports of New Zealand apples in the 1921, claiming there was a risk of spreading the fireblight apple tree disease to that country. Australia also raised concerns about European fruit canker or apple leaf-curling midge.

The Australian government lifted the outright ban in 2006 but imposed conditions so strict that New Zealand said it made its exports uneconomic.

New Zealand claims the disease cannot be spread through clean mature apples and in 2007 it asked the WTO to settle the dispute.

The WTO panel upheld the bulk of New Zealand's arguments challenging the validity of the scientific and risk assessments invoked by Australia for the restrictions, according to the ruling.

Under the WTO's plant and human health rules, any restrictions on trade must be based on a proper assessment of the risks using internationally recognised methods, as well as "relevant" scientific evidence.

New Zealand growers have estimated that exports of apples to Australia could be worth $50 million a year.

“The report represents a solid and very clear win in this long running case. Critically, the report is based on extremely thorough analysis by independent external arbiters – it settles any debate,” Mr Groser said.

“[It] finds that all 16 of Australia’s quarantine measures along with their current import risk analysis are inconsistent with their legal obligations as a WTO member under the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement.”

For background information click here.  The full WTO report (548 pages) and summary are here.

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