(July 22) Japan’s refusal to allow U.S. apples reasonable access has prompted a return salvo of trade retaliation from the Bush administration.

Despite technical approval to ship apples to Japan since late 1994, expensive requirements for multiple orchard inspections for fire blight have resulted in no shipments of U.S. apples to Japan since a mere 25,000 cartons were exported during the 2000-01 season, according to Jim Archer, manager of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Fruit Exporters.

“We think we have the varieties the Japanese consumers want … but until we get this fire blight issue resolved, it is not economically viable to export,” he said July 20.

A World Trade Organization panel will be appointed July 30 to consider a U.S. request to review whether Japan has complied with an earlier WTO ruling against its restriction on U.S. apples, according to a July 21 online report in Japan Today.

Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, said July 19 that the U.S. would seek authorization from a WTO panel to impose trade sanctions against Japan totaling $143.4 million, according to a press release from his office.

Archer said the administration’s efforts to resolve the apple trade dispute with Japan are appreciated.

“What we really would like to be doing is shipping apples (to Japan), but (the U.S. trade representative) has made serious and concerted efforts to the move the process along, and I don’t think Japan has been flexible,” he said.

In the release, Zoellick said Japanese requirements for orchard inspections and buffer zones are little changed from original restrictions that were found to be illegal by a previous WTO panel.

FIRE BLIGHT

That panel agreed with U.S. scientists who said fire blight cannot be carried on mature apples that do not bear the systems of fire blight.

On Dec. 10, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body found that Japan’s restrictions on imported U.S. apples are scientifically unfounded and inconsistent with WTO obligations.

The WTO body found that Japan’s requirements for three separate orchard inspections, 500-meter buffer zones between infected trees and trees with apples for export to Japan and chlorine treatment requirements are not based on scientific evidence or a risk assessment.

The U.S. argued successfully before the WTO that mature, symptomless apples — the only kind exported — cannot carry the disease.

Japan was given until June 30 to change its requirements, and while Japan indicated on that date that it would reduce its orchard inspections from three to one, Zoellick said the action was insufficient. What’s more, he said the science behind Japan’s restrictions are unsupportable in any case, he said.

“We won’t be satisfied until there is a level playing field, and that’s why we are moving to assert our WTO rights,” he said in the release.

The U.S. is seeking $143 million in annual trade sanctions on unspecified Japanese exports to offset what the U.S. estimates as the annual harm to the economy from Japan’s restrictions on U.S. apples.