Mexico demands WTO panel over Argentine import rules

MEXICO CITY Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:53pm EST

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has asked for a World Trade Organization panel to rule on a dispute over trade restrictions with Argentina, the economy ministry said on Wednesday.

Mexico objects to Argentina's rules that require import licenses that critics say amount to a blanket restriction on imports.

"The measures imposed by Argentina restrict the import of merchandise into its territory and discriminate between domestic and foreign merchandise, and Mexico believes these actions contravene WTO rules," the ministry said in a statement.

The measures are among several policies adopted by the government of President Cristina Fernandez that have prompted accusations of protectionism against Argentina.

Mexico also objects to "frequent" requests by Argentina for importers to limit orders and make new investments in local operations, the ministry said.

Fernandez' administration has tightened controls on imports and foreign-exchange purchases in recent months to improve its balance of trade, which is crucial to boosting international reserves used to pay debt.

The call for a WTO dispute panel follows talks between Mexico and Argentina that Mexico demanded in August, but the two countries did not reach an agreement.

Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari said last month that Mexico would ask for a WTO panel, adding that Japan, the European Union and the United States had previously made similar complaints.

The worsening of trade relations between the two Latin American countries follows Argentina's decision to pull out of a car trade pact in early July.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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