* U.S. says actions 'science-based,' in line with WTO
* Argentina counters its products are of high quality
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Aug 22 The United States on
Wednesday defended its longtime bans on beef and lemon imports
from Argentina after the South American country threatened to
challenge them at the World Trade Organization.
The sharp defense came amid escalating tensions over
Argentina's own import policies.
"All U.S. measures relating to imports of Argentine
products, including lemons and beef, are science-based and
consistent with WTO requirements," said Nkenge Harmon, a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
On Tuesday the United States and Japan challenged Argentine
government regulations that require prior approval of nearly all
foreign purchases, saying they violate WTO rules.
Argentina's Foreign Ministry did not comment directly on the
U.S. and Japanese action but said it would lodge its own
complaint at the WTO over Washington's policies that hamper
lemon and fresh beef imports.
"The United States is surprised and disappointed at
Argentina's reaction," Harmon said in an emailed statement.
"It appears to be part of a disturbing trend in which
countries engaged in actions that are inconsistent with their
WTO obligations retaliate with counter complaints rather than
fix the underlying problem raised in the complaint," she said.
U.S. trade officials still have not received official word
from Argentina that it plans to challenge the bans, so only know
what they have read in news reports, she said.
The United States bans imports of beef and beef products
from Argentina to block foot-and-mouth disease from that
country's cattle herd, U.S. agriculture officials said.
It bans Argentine lemons because of concern about two plant
diseases, citrus variegated chlorosis and citrus greening, that
could hurt U.S. lemon production.
Matthew Herrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Agriculture
Department, said USDA's regulatory authorities "will continue to
work with their Argentine counterparts to address scientific
issues related to specific pests and diseases of concern."
In a press release on Tuesday, Argentina complained that the
U.S. market has been closed to Argentine lemons since 2001, even
though other countries accept the fruit.
"Argentine citrus is exported to destinations with very high
health standards such as the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, which
do not question the excellent quality of Argentine produce," the
Argentine government said.
It said U.S. restrictions on Argentine beef because of
foot-and-mouth disease were "unjustified" and had cost Argentine
ranchers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.
"Although the International Health Organization has
recognized the southern Patagonia region as free of
foot-and-mouth disease, without vaccinations, since 2003, the
U.S. government ... has delayed recognition of this situation,
and has unreasonably delayed the authorization for the
importation of fresh beef," the Argentine government said.
Harmon said the "the fundamental openness" of the U.S.
market was reflected in U.S. trade data with Argentina.
Last year U.S. imports of Argentine farm products topped
$1.64 billion, while U.S. agricultural exports to Argentina
totaled $154 million, Harmon said.
However, Argentina is one of the few countries with which
the United States enjoys an overall trade surplus.
Last year it exported $9.9 billion worth of goods to
Argentina and imported $4.5 billion from that country.