An 85-year Australian ban on New Zealand apples was lifted two year ago, but replaced with import conditions so strict they amount to a non-tariff trade barrier, according to The Dominion Post.
The ban on New Zealand pipfruit, primarily apples, had been in place since 1921 and sought to keep out diseases like fire blight, European canker and leaf-curling midge. The replacement biosecurity measures include chlorine dips and orchard inspections, and effectively prohibit New Zealand apples from the market.
New Zealand’s appeal to the WTO asks to apply a previous ruling concerning Japan and the US, which found that fire blight couldn’t be spread by mature apples.
While most of New Zealand’s complaint concerns the biosecurity issues from a scientific basis, it contains a long preamble accusing Australia of a history of political interference in biosecurity.
The case has drawn in a number of concerned third parties; the US has lodged a submission supporting New Zealand, and Japan has done likewise in support of Australia. Taiwan has announced it has had no disease issues from its own New Zealand apple imports.
The Philippines is also closely watching the case, which may impact on its push for entry of bananas into the Australian market.
Experts are predicting the case will not go in Australia’s favour. Alan Oxley of trade consultants ITS Global in Sydney told the ABC Australia’s case would probably be beaten.
“It may have been that the previous government who set this process in train decided it was going to be easier to be overruled by the WTO to demonstrate that its case couldn't stand, rather than take the decision itself,” he said.
“But this is a case where on the surface it looks like we have tried to use the system to obstruct entry of New Zealand apples.”
A victory for New Zealand would also mean an open door to apple imports from the US and China.
The case may drag on for some time, with a final verdict expected in May subject to further appeals.