Import rules for apples overly strict, U.S. says

Kyodo

Japan and the United States locked horns again Tuesday over quarantine rules for imported apples, trade sources said.

Washington claims the regulations are too strict and violate World Trade Organization rules.

During a meeting of the WTO’s dispute settlement panel, Japan argued that its inspection procedures for fire blight are no stricter than necessary, the sources said.

Japan lifted a ban on apples from the U.S. in 1994 on condition that all of the imports are grown in orchards with a 500-meter buffer zone separating them from other apple trees.

The U.S. must also prove that the apples come from trees that have not been infected with fire blight for several years.

Fire blight, which is harmless to humans, is a highly contagious disease in apples and pears caused by a plant-eating bacterium. It is present in the U.S., New Zealand and some other countries, but has yet to be found in Japan.

As neither side has shown any sign of compromise, the dispute is likely to go to a high-level board, the sources said.

In March, the U.S. filed a complaint with the WTO over Japan’s plant quarantine rules, saying inspection procedures on apples for fire blight violate the WTO sanitary and phytosanitary pact.

Auto parts meeting

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japanese and U.S. trade officials will get together in January for their first meeting on auto and auto parts issues under a new framework for bilateral consultations, industry sources said Tuesday.

Cooperation aimed at the smooth distribution of auto-related goods is expected to be high on the agenda.

The talks are scheduled to take place Jan. 15 and 16 in San Francisco.

The adverse effects of a 10-day labor lockout at U.S. West Coast ports in late September have lingered, prompting some Japanese companies to suspend operations at their U.S. auto assembly plants due to a lack of parts and distribution delays.

During October 2001 talks in Shanghai on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, trade minister Takeo Hiranuma and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick agreed on a new consultation framework for auto and auto parts issues following the expiration of a bilateral auto trade accord at the end of 2000.

Under the new accord, the two countries will hold an annual working-level meeting and exchange views on auto and auto parts issues based on import and export data.

Japanese participants from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will attend the meeting, while the U.S. will be represented by officials of the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.