Japan imposes severe restrictions on imported U.S. apples, allegedly to protect Japanese plants from fire blight, a plant disease. The United States, however, has shown there is no scientific evidence that mature apple fruit can transmit fire blight. The WTO panel and Appellate Body agreed.
"I am very pleased that the Appellate Body confirmed that Japan's restrictions on U.S. apples violate WTO rules. This is very important for gaining meaningful access to Japan's market," said Zoellick.
"We are committed to ensuring a level playing field for apples and other U.S. agricultural goods. Our farmers grow the world's finest agricultural products, and this WTO decision sets an important standard that will help us to keep markets open for U.S. agricultural exports."
The decision was a refreshing change from a series of rulings that have gone against U.S. negotiators in recent months.
"U.S. apple growers have suffered from Japan's unjustified import requirements, which were imposed with no scientifically sound justification," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "This ruling reinforces one of the WTO's basic rules – health and safety requirements must be based on sound science. The U.S. victory in this case brings us one step closer to improved market access for U.S. apple growers in Japan and will help us fight similar trade barriers in markets throughout the world."
"American farmers expect our trading partners to implement trade rules fairly, and that means using rules based on science," added Zoellick. "We've seen others around the world block our exports with non-science based barriers, such as in Europe with beef and biotech products. This decision will help us in our efforts to make sure American farmers are treated fairly."
U.S. farmers send more than $390 million worth of world-class apples abroad every year, in particular from Washington State and Oregon. However, Japan's severe fire blight restrictions have essentially blocked our apples from reaching Japanese consumers; for example, U.S. apple exports to Japan were limited to only $377,000 in 2001. Removal of Japan's WTO-inconsistent import barriers would give a boost to U.S. apple farmers by providing the opportunity to increase U.S. exports, says Veneman.
The WTO Appellate Body sided with the United States on all of its major claims in this dispute. Specifically, the Appellate Body:
-- Upheld panel findings that Japan had acted inconsistently with its WTO obligations by maintaining its import restrictions on U.S. apples without sufficient scientific evidence; and
-- Upheld panel findings that Japan had acted inconsistently with its obligation to base the import restrictions on a risk assessment.
Japan claimed that its restrictions on imports of U.S. apples were necessary to prevent introduction of fire blight (a disease that affects plants but not humans) into Japan. However, as the United States pointed out to Japan repeatedly over more than a decade of bilateral talks, there has never been any scientific evidence that mature apple fruit transmit fire blight. Billions of apples have been exported worldwide, most of the time without any restrictions against fire blight.
On March 1, 2002, the United States requested WTO dispute settlement consultations with Japan on its fire blight restrictions on imported U.S. apples. Consultations were unsuccessful, and a panel was established on June 3, 2002. The panel issued its report on July 15, 2003, agreeing with the United States on all of its major claims. Japan appealed on Aug. 28, 2003.
The United States alleged that Japan's fire blight restrictions were inconsistent with various provisions of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, including Japan's obligation not to maintain import restrictions without sufficient scientific evidence and its obligation to base any import restrictions on a risk assessment.
In today's report, the Appellate Body upheld the panel findings against Japan.