30 Nov 2010

NZ wins WTO appeal on Australia apple ban

9:46 pm on 30 November 2010

The World Trade Organisation has upheld New Zealand's case against Australia for blocking apple exports.

The WTO appeal body's ruling should clear the way for New Zealand to resume apple exports to Australia for the first time since 1921.

Australia banned imports of New Zealand apples after fireblight was found on fruit trees in this country. The outright ban was lifted in 2006 but with strict conditions that New Zealand argued were unscientific and uneconomic.

The WTO has backed most of New Zealand's claims that Australian quarantine measures breached world trade rules.

In August this year, the WTO ruled there was no scientific basis to the stringent quarantine conditions Australian biosecurity proposed as protection against fireblight, European canker and the apple leaf-curling midge.

The conditions included orchard inspections and putting the New Zealand fruit through chlorine baths before export.

The WTO appeals body largely upheld the those findings and called on Australia to bring its regulations into line with international trade rules.

Victory for NZ, says Key

Prime Minister John Key says Australia has run out of ways to block New Zealand apples and it has to allow their sale.

Mr Key believes the WTO decision is a victory for New Zealand.

"Well, I guess they could always try and play games, but we would be very disappointed if they did that. At the end of the day, they put up their case; we put up ours. It's been a hard-fought process, but New Zealand's had a resounding victory.

"I believe in the spirit of the Anzac relationship that we have and it's time to let New Zealand apples into Australia."

The Australian government said it accepted the decision and would now undertake a science-based review of the import risk analysis for New Zealand apples.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson say that, as a country dependent on exports, Australia cannot turn its back on the WTO rules it uses to gain access to other countries' markets.

Issues 'still to be addressed'

A representative for apple growers in Australia says there are issues that need to be addressed before New Zealand fruit can be exported.

Apple and Pear Australia says there is still a need for appropriate measures to protect its crop from fireblight and other diseases.

A spokesperson, John Corboy, told Checkpoint there is scientific evidence that New Zealand apples remain a risk.

"Our concern is very much about food coming out of orchards that have active fireblight. Under the present process, it is quite foreseeable that fruit could be picked out of orchards that have very severe outbreaks and very high level of bacteria.

"We don't believe that's acceptable - we don't believe any grower in the world would see that as being acceptable."

However, Mr Corboy says it is conceivable that New Zealand apples will be in Australia in a couple of years if risks are minimised.

He earlier told the ABC that the Australian industry has not given up and that growers will not take the ruling well.

Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Peter Beaven says a technical work plan will be continued next year, but realistically apples will not be exported to Australia until about 2012.

Debate settled, says trade minister

New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser says the WTO findings, reached by independent external arbiters, settle any debate.

In a statement, Mr Groser said said Australia was now under an obligation to bring its measures into conformity with its WTO obligations.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff, who was the trade minister at the time the case was taken to the WTO, says he hopes Australia does not use the review as a deliberate delaying tactic.

But Mr Groser has told Morning Report that he doubts Australia will move to further block New Zealand apples.