How do you like them apples? WTO sides with New Zealand in trade case against Australia

By Bradley S. Klapper, AP
Monday, August 9, 2010

WTO rules against Australian ban on NZ apples

GENEVA — The World Trade Organization ruled Monday that Australia’s 89-year ban on imports of New Zealand apples is illegal, and ordered Canberra to comply with international commerce law.

In a 548-page verdict, the WTO rejected Australia’s arguments that the apple restrictions are necessary to keep out pests and diseases.

Still, New Zealand apples are unlikely to appear on Australian markets any time soon. The WTO can authorize punitive sanctions against countries that continue to break trade rules — but usually only after years of litigation — and Australia can file a number of appeals.

The ban was first imposed in 1921 to prevent the spread to Australian trees of fire blight — a disease that damages apple trees and reduces their ability to produce fruit.

Australia also has turned away imports because of concerns that New Zealand’s apples could carry European fruit canker or apple leaf-curling midge.

But the WTO’s three-member panel found that Australia’s ban wasn’t based on a scientific risk assessment.

The Australian and New Zealand missions to the WTO declined to immediately comment, because the WTO’s decision was released before working hours at their trade ministries.

New Zealand brought the case to the world trade referee in 2007, alleging that 17 Australian requirements for apple imports were illegal.

Although the apple issue is an irritant, the South Pacific neighbors have one of the most open economic relationships of any two countries. They traded merchandise valued at more than $12 billion last year.

New Zealand claims the apple trade in Australia could be worth up to $6.2 million a year.

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