Blow to Aussie apple growers

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In a significant blow to Australian apple growers, the Federal Government says it has no choice but to accept a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling that its 90-year-old restrictions on New Zealand apples is unscientific and breaks international rules.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson said Australia had accepted the decision and would conduct an import risk assessment.

“The Government will now proceed with a science-based review of the import risk analysis for New Zealand apples,” Mr Ludwig said.

“The review will be conducted by Biosecurity Australia.”

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Australia imposed the restrictions in 1921 to protect local apple trees from fireblight, a pest that also affects pear trees and rose bushes.

New Zealand has been pushing for access to the Australian market since 1986, and after exhaustive efforts took the dispute to the WTO.

The organisation’s Appellate Body found in favour of New Zealand in August, but Australia appealed the decision.

In a new decision released this week, the body upheld its original findings that all 16 of Australia’s quarantine measures were inconsistent with its legal obligations.

Under WTO plant and human health rules, any restrictions on trade must be based on a proper assessment of the risks using internationally recognised methods as well as relevant scientific evidence.

Mr Ludwig and Dr Emerson defended the integrity of Australia’s quarantine regime, saying the review would ensure Australia remained protected from pests and diseases.

“With our strong belief in the benefits of liberal trade, the Gillard Government will accept the independent umpire’s decision of the WTO,” Dr Emerson said.

Mr Ludwig said the review would be based on the best available science and the apple industry and other stakeholders would be properly consulted.

Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Peter Beaven said he was delighted with the WTO decision.

It would probably be the 2012 crop, harvested between February and April, that would have access to the Australian market, he said.

It is now up to Australia to propose a timeframe, but if New Zealand does not like the timeframe proposed, it can lodge a complaint with the WTO.

Lifting the ban is expected to boost apple exports by $30 million over two to three years.

A recent study by Malcolm Bosworth and Greg Cutbrush, two visiting fellows at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Economics and Government, found that the ban had driven up the price of apples for Australian consumers.

The study, backed by the New Zealand apple growers’ association, Pipfruit, said Australia had the second most expensive apples in the world, after Japan, and growers had benefited by $2.3 billion between 2001–02 and 2007–08.

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