In 2007 the New Zealand Government requested a review by the
World Trade Organisation ("WTO")
concerning measures imposed by Australia on the importation of
apples from New Zealand. The New Zealand Government contended that
Australia breached the WTO Agreement on the Application of
Sanitary and Phytosanitray Measures insofar as the trade
measures imposed constituted discrimination between Members and
were not scientifically justifiable.
Both the New Zealand and Australian Governments have confirmed
the release of a confidential interim report into the findings of
the WTO Panel. Whilst the Australian government has not confirmed
the content of the report, it has been leaked in a New Zealand
political newsletter, the Trans-Tasman, that it rejected the
Australian defence to the ban. If the suggested outcome is accurate
it would mean Australia is currently in breach of its free trade
obligations. As a result it is likely Australia would be forced to
significantly reduce the trade restrictions currently placed on New
Zealand apples, or alternatively face WTO imposed sanctions.
Import Restrictions on New Zealand Apples
The import of apples from New Zealand into Australia was banned
in 1921 amongst concern that the fruit would introduce the disease
fire blight into Australia, however in more recent years imports
have been allowed under strict quarantine conditions.
In March 2007 Biosecurity Australia, in response to applications
from the New Zealand Government, determined that apples from New
Zealand should be permitted entry into Australia subject to the
Quarantine Act 1908 and the application of phytosanitary
Interim Report – What Next?
The WTO dispute resolution process provides, after the release
of the confidential interim report, both parties have the ability
to request a review of the report. After the review is completed
the final report is released first to the parties involved, and
then three weeks later to all WTO members. If the report finds the
disputed trade measure does breach a WTO agreement or obligation,
it will make recommendations as to measures that can be undertaken
to allow conformity with the rules.
Both sides can appeal the final report ruling, but only on
matters of law. The WTO panel has indicated the final report is
expected to be released sometime in May 2010.
Consequences of Finding
Aside from the potential consequences to the Australian domestic
apple industry, should a ruling against the trade measures be made
it could set a precedent that may be used to challenge the legality
of bans and restrictions, on quarantine grounds, that Australia
places on a wide range of goods.
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