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Aussies give up apple fight after WTO ruling

Tuesday 30th November 2010

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Australia's federal trade and agriculture Ministers say the country has no choice but to accept they have lost the long-running bid to ban imports of New Zealand apples.

The World Trade Organisation's Appellate Body, which reviews appeals to the global trade arbiter, reaffirmed a panel's decision to force Australia to remove its 90-year-old ban on New Zealand apple imports.

The WTO judges upheld the August decision that Australia's 16 quarantine measures and risk assessment were inconsistent with international trade obligations.

It reversed the panel's ruling that Australia unduly delayed the process, and had less restrictive options available to it.

"The Appellate Body has confirmed that Australia's objections to New Zealand apple imports are simply not backed by the science," Trade Minister Tim Groser said in a statement. "We're looking forward to working with Australia to implement the findings through an effective and durable solution on access for New Zealand apples."

The 24-year-old dispute stemmed from Australia's refusal to let New Zealand apples in for fear of fireblight, a bacterial disease. New Zealand went to the WTO after Australia agreed to remove its ban in March 2007 and implement overly harsh quarantine measures. Local government officials estimate unrestricted access will be worth some $30 million per annum.

The issue is politically charged in Australia, where Victorian apple-growers particularly have led the charge against New Zealand apple imports.

However, the Australian federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson have accepted the ruling, saying Australia depended on exports and had no choice but to accept the decision of the independent umpire.

"The government has accepted the decision and will now proceed with a science-based review of the import risk analysis for New Zealand apples. The review will be conducted by Biosecurity Australia," they said in a statement.

Groser told Radio New Zealand that Australia could not afford to risk its leadership status in the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters by fighting the apples ruling any further.

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