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WTO ruling important message for Australia

Hon Jim Sutton MP for Aoraki

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister for Trade Negotiations, and Associate Minister for Rural Affairs

Media Statement


June 2005

WTO ruling important message for Australia

Today's WTO ruling on a case between the US and Japan about apple imports is a complete vindication of our position that apples as commercially traded do not pose a risk of transmission of fire blight, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The WTO Compliance Panel decision, issued in Geneva overnight, held that Japan has failed to comply with an earlier WTO ruling requiring it to bring its quarantine restrictions on apple imports into compliance with WTO rules. New Zealand actively participated in the dispute as a third party and presented arguments and scientific evidence to the Compliance Panel.

Following the earlier ruling, issued in December 2003, Japan had made a number of minor changes to its quarantine regime, but these were characterised by the United States as merely "cosmetic". Japan tried to justify its approach on the basis on new scientific studies. These studies were dismissed by the WTO Compliance Panel, and the group of scientific experts convened to consider the matter, as failing to substantiate Japan's arguments.

The Compliance Panel's decision confirms the earlier WTO rulings that apples as commercially traded do not spread fire blight. The Panel found that the Japanese quarantine measures were WTO-incompatible.

The measures found to be incompatible included a requirement that apples only be exported from designated fire blight free orchards, that such orchards be surrounded by a ten-metre blight-free buffer zone, that apples and packing facilities be chemically disinfected, and that fruit destined for Japan be separated from fruit going to other markets.

Mr Sutton said the findings in the case would reinforce New Zealand's arguments in the apples dispute with Australia, which is being considered by the WTO SPS Committee next week.

"It's certainly a positive development, but no surprise to us. We have long known that the scientific evidence on apples and fire blight does not support these sorts of restrictions".

Mr Sutton said the ruling should also have a positive impact on New Zealand's apple access to Japan.

He urged Japan to move quickly to conform to its WTO obligations by removing the unjustified restrictions on apple trade.

"It's also an important message for Australia. Authorities there are designing a system to enable our apples to be imported and they need to ensure that any protective measures are scientifically justified."

ENDS

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