* Australia ban not scientifically grounded, panel finds
* New Zealand apples banned since 1921
* Ruling could also open other markets
(Adds details, background, quotes, byline)
By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Aug 9 Australia's decades-old
restrictions on imports of New Zealand apples break
international trade laws and should be amended, the World Trade
Organization said on Monday.
The WTO panel ruling should open the way for New Zealand to
resume sales of apples to its biggest trading partner after
nearly 90 years, and holds out the possibility of access to
other Asian markets where its apples are banned for similar
Like many trade disputes this one turned on health and
safety rules, which are vulnerable to being exploited by
domestic producers to ward off foreign competition.
The WTO experts did not back Wellington on all its claims,
disagreeing that Australia's sanitary controls were arbitrary.
But in a 597-page report they found that Australian safety
checks on New Zealand apples were unscientific and disrupted
trade more than necessary, and that New Zealand's rights under
global trade law had been damaged as a result.
The dispute marks a rare tiff across the Tasman Sea,
involving two neighbours with about $13 billion a year in
two-way trade. Both countries have strict quarantine rules to
protect their agriculture from foreign infections.
Australia banned New Zealand apples in 1921 because of fears
that fire blight, a disease that attacks apple and pear trees
and rose bushes, could spread. Wellington has tried to have the
ban lifted since 1986, and began a challenge at the WTO in 2007.
Wellington argued that the ban was not justified on
scientific grounds as fire blight cannot be carried on mature
fruit. Canberra disagreed, so New Zealand then asked Australia
to define what quarantine arrangements would be necessary.
Rules proposed by Australia in 2007 to cover fire blight and
two other pests were so tough that New Zealand argued they
amounted to a continued ban.
The ruling will be welcomed by New Zealand producers such as
Turners & Growers TUR.NZ.
New Zealand officials estimate that lifting the Australian
ban could add NZ$30 million ($22 million) within two to three
years to apple exports totalling NZ$400 million in 2009.
But the ruling could also open other markets, according to
industry lobby Pipfruit New Zealand. "The implications for us
run a lot deeper in terms of other market access issues that we
currently have," said Pipfruit NZ Chairman Ian Palmer.
New Zealand had particular problems with Japan and South
Korea. "Korea is one of the expanding markets that we would like
to be in, but they have the same fire blight ban that the
Australians have," Palmer told Reuters.
New Zealand exports 75-80 percent of its annual crop of
about 400,000 tonnes, mainly to Europe and especially Germany
and Britain, as well as to the United States and Asia, notably
The ruling could also crack open the Australian fruit market
to imports from other suppliers, such as the United States and
Chile, the world's third biggest apple exporter.
The two countries now have 60 days in which to appeal.
(Additional reporting by Alex Tarrant in Wellington; Editing by
Stephanie Nebehay/David Stamp)