A North American Free Trade Agreement Panel has demanded that Mexico to give its final answer on antidumping tariffs on U.S. apples by Jan. 15, but one Northwest industry trade expert believes Mexico might ignore that deadline as they have in the past.

“It will be interesting to see what they do,” said Jim Archer, manager of Northwest Fruit Exporters, Yakima, Wash. “It’s doubtful we will see anything by (Jan. 15), but that is the deadline,” he said Jan. 11.

The NAFTA panel told Mexico’s government in November to determine the future of its tariff on U.S. red and golden delicious by Dec. 15. However, Mexico put out an official notice not long after that stating that the decision wouldn’t be reached until early March.

That response displeased the NAFTA panel, which said Mexico should respond by Jan. 15.

“The panel asked Mexico to not request further information and to not use anything except the most recent period of investigation data which was 2004-05,” Archer said.

However, Archer said there doesn’t seem to be any consequences planned for Mexico’s delayed decision.

Red and golden delicious apples from the U.S. Northwest have faced an antidumping duty in Mexico since 2002. In October 2005, Mexican authorities imposed duties of 44.77% against those varieties. That was just slightly below a duty of 46.58% that had been in place from August 2002 through May 2005.

Because Mexico used 8-year old data to justify the 2005 tariff (and perhaps other reasons), the U.S. asked the NAFTA panel to investigate the tariffs, according to the a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service report.

Archer said Mexico has tried to protect its apple producers unfairly.

“We’ve never felt like they had a case and we still don’t feel they have a case and there is no basis for that duty,” he said.

Despite the trade barrier, Mexico remains a top market for Washington apples.

Through early January, Washington had shipped about 1.7 million cartons to Mexico, which is off only about 2% compared with the same time last year. In the 2008-09 season, Washington shipped more than 10 million cartons of apples to Mexico.

Deadline nears on Mexican apple tariff