American Farm Bureau News
August 24, 1998 Vol. 77, No.31

WTO rules against Japan's import rules

American agriculture producers who export their goods to Japan may enjoy new opportunities to trade with the Asian nation thanks to the preliminary findings of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel.

The WTO released a report earlier this month indicating that Japan's testing requirements for certain agricultural products entering that country violate trade rules adopted under the Uruguay Round agreement, which dictates that sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) trade restrictions must be based on sound scientific evidence.

Japan's strict agriculture trade standards require the testing of quarantine treatments each time a new variety of a previously approved commodity is introduced for export to the country. For example, even if a quarantine treatment has been approved for one variety of nectarine, Japan requires that testing be repeated for every variety of nectarine proposed to enter the country.

Testing for each variety is costly to both farmers and the government, and is very time consuming, usually taking up to two years to complete. According to the WTO report, the redundant tests have no sound scientific basis and serve as an unfair barrier to free trade.

This WTO case reflects our concern about Japan's use of groundless testing requirements that serve only to restrict market access for U.S. agricultural products, Representative Charlene Barshefsky. We are pleased that the panel has recognized that there is no scientific basis for the Japanese measures.

The final WTO report, which is expected to be released in October, would have an immediate effect on the export of apples, cherries, nectarines and walnuts, but could eventually have implications for pears, peaches, quinces, apricots and plums as well. Japan claims that each of these products is a potential carrier of the codling moth, a pest not currently found in Japan.

The fruit-testing complaint filed against Japan marks the third SPS case filed with the WTO and the second spearheaded by the United States. In the previous U.S. complaint, the European Union failed in its effort to ban the importation of American beef treated with hormones after the WTO found that the restriction lacked proper scientific support.

Farm Bureau noted that a win in the case against Japan signals that the WTO dispute settlement process is operating successfully, especially for agriculture, and that it underscores the benefit of securing fast-track negotiating authority to further enhance trade provisions affecting agriculture.

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