UPDATE 2-Argentina asks WTO to probe U.S., European trade curbs

Wed Dec 5, 2012 4:56pm EST

* Argentina asks global trade body to rule on disputes

* Says U.S. blocking imports of lemons and beef

* Accuses European Union of restricting biodiesel shipments

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Argentina has asked the World Trade Organization to investigate its claims that the United States and European Union have broken WTO rules by curbing imports of lemons, beef and biodiesel, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The move ups the ante in long-simmering disputes between the left-leaning government of President Cristina Fernandez and two of Argentina's most important partners.

"The measures against Argentine exports ... have caused serious damage to Argentine farmers, also causing the loss of thousands of jobs," Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said.

"We're open to keep talking while this complaint is handled by the World Trade Organization," he told a news conference, adding that the complaints were filed earlier in the day.

The South American country accuses the United States of blocking imports of Argentine beef and fresh lemons while it says that the European Union and Spain have done the same with Argentine biodiesel.

Diplomatic and business relations have been strained between Argentina and the EU since earlier this year when Fernandez seized a majority stake in Argentina's top energy company YPF from Spanish oil major Repsol.

Argentina has previously complained to the WTO over both issues, but Wednesday's presentation is a formal request for the organization's Dispute Settlement Body to rule on the dispute.

Under WTO rules a country accused of breaking the rules has 60 days to try to resolve the complaint, after which the complainant can ask the WTO to set up a panel of adjudicators to judge the merits of the disputes.

Argentina is the world's top exporter of biodiesel, which is made with the soy that grows abundantly in the Pampas farm belt.

Spain announced import barriers against Argentine biodiesel in April, just after Buenos Aires said it would seize control of YPF. The nationalization infuriated EU politicians.

In August the Fernandez government accused the United States of unfairly blocking imports of Argentine beef.

The South American country is the world's third-largest exporter of beef after Brazil and Australia. But it has been shut out of the United States for years because of restrictions meant to block the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.