WASHINGTON - U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman applauded a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel decision issued today siding with the United States in its dispute against Japanese restrictions on U.S. apples. The United States estimates that U.S. apple exports to Japan would be $143.4 million in the absence of Japan’s restrictions.
"This is a solid victory for the U.S. apple industry," said Ambassador Portman. "The WTO panel’s clear and well-reasoned decision sets a scientifically-based standard to be used by Japan and other countries. Japan has unfairly used unscientific restrictions to block U.S. apple exports for years. This is a great example of how the Administration is actively enforcing our trade agreements."
"This is an important result for the U.S. apple industry and all exporters, as it advances the adoption of science-based regulations as the international language for the safe trade of agriculture products," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "We look forward to working with our trading partners around the world to ensure that our producers have an opportunity to trade without artificial barriers. When American producers have a level playing field, the high quality and reliability of their products sell themselves."
Today's panel report makes very clear findings in favor of the United States that Japan's revised restrictions are still inconsistent with its WTO obligations. The panel sided with the United States on all of the major issues in dispute. The panel agreed with the United States that Japan failed to conform its restrictions on apples to previous WTO panel and Appellate Body findings. The panel found against the majority of the revised elements of Japan's import regime for apples, most notably the prohibition of shipping healthy fruit from orchards with any fire blight at all, and mandatory orchard inspections, orchard buffer zones, and various packing facility requirements. The panel concluded that these restrictions were maintained without sufficient scientific evidence, not based on a risk assessment and more trade restrictive than necessary. Further, the panel endorsed the U.S. argument that any hypothetical concerns regarding the spread of fire blight disease could be addressed by restricting exports of apple fruit to mature, symptomless fruit.
Japan provides important export opportunities for U.S. apples. However, U.S. apples have effectively been banned from the Japanese market for over twenty years in large part due to Japan's unscientific fire blight restrictions. Fire blight is a disease unique to certain fruit trees, causing flowers, shoots, twigs and sometimes the host plant itself to wither and die.
The United States won earlier WTO proceedings against the Japanese restrictions, and in this most recent proceeding challenged Japan's attempts to bring its restrictions into conformity with the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). Japan's restrictions on exported U.S. apples included a 10-meter orchard buffer zone, orchard inspections, and chlorine treatment of exported fruit. The United States argued that these restrictions were not based on sufficient scientific evidence or on a risk assessment, and were therefore inconsistent with Japan's obligations under the SPS Agreement. The panel agreed with the U.S. position, and affirmed a U.S. argument that any hypothetical concerns regarding the spread of fire blight disease could be addressed by restricting exports of apple fruit to mature, symptomless fruit.
In the event that Japan fails to comply with the ultimate recommendations and rulings of the WTO, the United States would move forward with its request for WTO authorization to impose $143.4 million dollars a year in trade sanctions. This figure would be subject to arbitration at the WTO.