12 Apr 2010

NZ victory over Australia in apple case reported

9:55 pm on 12 April 2010

New Zealand is reported to have won a long-running case it took to the World Trade Organisation against Australia over access for its apples.

Radio New Zealand understands the World Trade Organisation disputes panel has rejected Australia's defence that New Zealand apple imports would risk the introduction of the bacterial disease fire blight.

The trade dispute has been running since the 1920s when New Zealand apples were first banned from Australia due to the discovery of fire blight in the country in 1919.

In 2007, Biosecurity Australia agreed to end the 86-year ban, but imposed strict quarantine restrictions.

The New Zealand Government took a case to the WTO, saying the restrictions amounted to a trade barrier. In July last year, the disputes panel considered submissions from New Zealand and Australia.

The Government confirmed on Monday that it has received the WTO's interim report on the multimillion-dollar trade block, but will not say what is in it.

However, the Government says it is satisfied that the panel understood New Zealand's arguments and is looking forward to the full report, expected to be issued later this year.

A spokesperson for New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser says the confidential report was issued at the end of March and has not yet been finalised. The Government will analyse the interim report before providing comments on the panel's conclusions.

The Australian government said on Monday it cannot comment on whether it has received the interim report.

Growers 'quietly celebrating'

Pipfruit New Zealand says it has not been briefed by Mr Groser or his office. It says it would be exciting news for apple growers if the WTO has found in New Zealand's favour, but Australia can still appeal against the decision.

Pipfruit NZ chief executive Peter Beaven says even if the decision favours New Zealand, it could be 2012 before apple exports to Australia go ahead.

Hawke's Bay orchardist Lesley Wilson, of the Australia Apple Access Action Group, told Checkpoint growers are quietly celebrating, but warns the battle may not be over.

"Either country can only appeal on process, not on the science. So we've put the science to bed, and now it's just about process. And I would be very disappointed if the decision did fall our way and Australia protested."