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Staff writer

The World Trade Organization has compiled a report upholding claims by the United States that Japan’s quarantine system for imported fruit unfairly targets apples and some other fruit, informed sources said Monday.

The classified interim report was compiled by a neutral dispute-settlement panel of the Geneva-based watchdog on international commerce and has recently been distributed to the Japanese and U.S. governments, the sources said.

If Japan does not appeal the ruling by the three-member panel, the WTO is expected to officially adopt it in October at a monthly meeting of its Dispute Settlement Body, the sources said.

If Japan does appeal, the WTO’s Appellate Body would hand down a final ruling on the bilateral fruit-trade row within two months of the appeal being lodged, the sources said.

The appellate body rarely reverses a ruling by the panel.

The dispute originated when the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton filed a complaint in April last year claiming that Japan’s lengthy fruit-quarantine system erects unfair import barriers against apples and other fruit, including cherries, to protect weak domestic fruit growers from competition.

Japan says its tight import restrictions are for quarantine reasons, and the U.S. has so far been allowed to export two apple varieties to Japan since the ban on its apples was lifted in August 1994 after several years of strict testing.

Although the U.S. wants to export five more apple varieties, Tokyo insists it must conduct strict — and lengthy — tests on them for vulnerability to noxious insects, especially the codling moth.

The U.S. claims there is no scientific foundation for conducting the variety-by-variety tests, which take several years each, and is demanding the other five varieties be exempted on the basis of the test results for the previous two that are already being imported.

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