GENEVA/WASHINGTON A World Trade Organization dispute panel ruled against Argentina on Friday in a 2012 case brought by the United States, European Union and Japan against the South American country's licensing rules used to restrict imports.
The three economic powers argued that Argentina did not automatically grant licenses to importers as required by WTO rules, allowing it to shield its vulnerable economy.
The panel of three independent arbitrators found that Argentina's licensing rules violated WTO agreements, and urged the government of President Cristina Fernandez to bring them in line with international trade rules.
Argentina has 60 days during which it may file an appeal of the panel's ruling to the WTO.
The office of the United States Trade Representative said in a statement the ruling was "a major victory for American workers, manufacturers and farmers."
"Argentina's protectionist measures impact a broad segment of U.S. exports, potentially affecting billions of dollars in U.S. exports each year that support high-quality, middle-class American jobs," the USTR said.
The United States exported about $17 billion in goods and services to Argentina last year, according to trade data. A U.S. trade official said American exports to Argentina are below where they should be due to Buenos Aires's restrictions.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, also said the WTO case was meant to send a signal to other countries with such restrictions on imports, showing they clearly violate WTO rules.
The panel's decision comes at a difficult time for Argentina.
The inflation rate is expected by private analysts to exceed 30 percent this year while the economy contracts. Central bank reserves have been strained by the country's lack of access to international bond financing.
Earlier on Friday, the government accused the U.S. judge who called the country's new debt restructuring plan illegal of making "imperialist" comments against the South American nation.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Anna Yukhananov in Washington; editing by G Crosse)