New Zealand takes Australia to World Trade Organization over apple imports


New Zealand will ask the World Trade Organization to persuade Australia to lift an 86-year ban on importing its apples because it is a barrier to free trade, Cabinet ministers said Monday.

After years of efforts to resolve the issue bilaterally, Wellington plans to initiate WTO dispute settlement proceedings soon, Trade Minister Phil Goff and Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton said in a statement. Growers complain that the Australian ban is a non-tariff trade barrier.

“Eighty-six years or so seems long enough for New Zealand to wait for access to the Australian market for apples,” Anderton told reporters.

“New Zealand has tried very hard, has been very patient and shown the utmost good faith … (particularly) over the past 21 years” in seeking to resolve the Australian ban, Goff said.

The ban was first imposed in 1921 to prevent fire blight — a disease that damages apple trees and reduces their ability to produce fruit — from spreading to Australian trees.

Australia said last year it was investigating seven pests and diseases that it fears could enter the country on New Zealand apples. They included fire blight, European fruit canker and an apple leaf curling midge.

Although the apple issue is an irritant, annual trade between the South Pacific neighbors is worth 16 billion New Zealand dollars (US$11.1 billion; euro8.2 billion), Goff said.

New Zealand apple trade in Australia could be worth NZ$3 million to NZ$9 million (US$2.1 million to US$6.2 million; euro1.5 million to euro4.6 million) a year, Anderton said.

“The real benefit is Australians tasting some real apples for a change,” he said.