Indonesia is stalling U.S. efforts to seek a World Trade Organization solution over a dispute about the Asian country’s fruit import rules.

The Asian country, in the top five market for U.S. apple exports, blocked the formation of a dispute panel that the U.S. requested to review Indonesia’s restrictive regulations on agricultural imports.

“They chose to block the U.S. request,” said Mark Powers, vice president of international trade and transportation for the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.

Indonesia delays dispute panel on fruit importsThe U.S. can request a WTO dispute panel in April, when Indonesia can’t block the request, Powers said. However, solving the trade dispute through the WTO could take more more than a year, he said.

Indonesia put in place their import license system in November, Powers said.

Since November, when Indonesia enacted a new import process, Northwest U.S. apple exports dropped 70% compared with the previous year. Washington apple exports to Indonesia so far this year totaled 575,000 cartons through late March, Powers said, down from 1.1 million cartons last season at the same time. Indonesia also has been a major customer of grapes, citrus and pears.

“We as an industry haven’t shipped more than couple containers there in the past three weeks,” he said March 27.

Exports to Indonesia tumbled at the end of February but could revive somewhat with new quotas assigned in 2013. However, Powers said that Indonesia’s restrictions make it hard to judge what fruit can be exported from the U.S.

“There are no transparent mechanisms through which importers or the public can see what has been allocated,” he said.

Powers said that the Indonesia apple market has been a critical market for Northwest U.S. smaller-sized red delicious apples.

“There really isn’t a good alternative to Indonesia for that portion of the manifest,” he said. “It is economically damaging our growers.”