U.S. criticizes Argentina, Indonesia import curbs at WTO

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 22, 2012 2:20pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday demanded that Argentina "immediately" end an import licensing regime and other curbs that have frustrated foreign suppliers and expressed concerns about a "sweeping new import restriction" Indonesia has imposed.

The comments came in remarks by a U.S. official at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

Rachel Bae, a U.S. attache, took a notably harder line with Argentina, which is already the target of a WTO suit filed by the European Union over steps the South American nation has taken to discourage imports.

Those include an import licensing regime and an obligation on companies to balance imports with exports.

"Our hope is that Argentina will acknowledge our concerns and terminate these import-restrictive measures and practices immediately," she said, according to a text of her remarks made available in Washington.

"In short, our question for Argentina, again today, is: When will the government put an end to the non-transparent and restrictive measures and practices that have been the source of such longstanding irritation and growing frustration to so many of Argentina's fellow WTO Members?"

Argentina maintains it measures are consistent with WTO rules and complained on Friday other members are unfairly singling it out by continually bringing them up, a trade diplomat said.

Nineteen WTO members objected to Argentina's policies at the March 30 meeting of the WTO Trade and Goods Council, and the United States, the EU, Japan, Turkey, Switzerland, Australia, Colombia, New Zealand, Israel, Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong reinforced those concerns on Friday, the diplomat said.

Bae began her remarks on Indonesia by stressing it "is an important partner of the United States."

But the Southeast Asian nation has introduced a large number of new trade and investment restrictions "that threaten to make Indonesia's market impenetrable," Bae said.

Those include "a sweeping new import restriction" known as Regulation 27 that the United States understands is intended to implement "an Indonesia Supreme Court finding that imports 'clash' with domestic products and interfere with national development objectives," she said.

Bae noted "the substance of the Supreme Court's decision raises thought-provoking questions about the openness of Indonesia's economy and its ability to fulfill its WTO commitments."

She also expressed concern about import licensing requirements that Indonesia has imposed on a long list of products, including many of interest to the United States, such as livestock products, textiles and clothing and consumers goods like electronics, appliances and food and beverages.

Indonesia defended the policies as necessary to address the needs of millions of poor people in the country, but said it was reviewing some of the regulations, the trade diplomat said.

The EU, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Australia joined the United States in expressing concern.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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