NZ apple ban expected to go

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 13th April 2010

The World Trade Organisation is expected to formally rule that Australia’s stringent quarantine restrictions on New Zealand apples are unfair, ending a 90 year long lockout on bringing the fruit from NZ into Australia.

While no formal announcement has been made by either government or the WTO, The Trans Tasman Political Letter announced that the ban had been overruled after obtaining a leaked copy of the draft report.

The ban was originally implemented in the 1920s to prevent the spread of fire blight into Australia. Recent research has suggested that mature fruit poses a lower risk of spreading the disease than plants.

The ban was lifted in 2006, but stringent conditions were placed on orchards and fruit destined for import. In 2007, New Zealand requested that the WTO review these conditions, considering them an unacceptable trade barrier.  The new ruling means that the formerly protected Australian apple market will be opened to New Zealand apples, and may pave the way for imports from other countries, including China and the US, who won a similar ruling against Japan.

Tony Russell of Apple and Pear Australia Ltd maintained that the biggest concern is the possibility of bringing disease into Australia.

“There are several diseases that New Zealand has that might be brought in, primarily fireblight, also European canker and the apple leaf-curling midge.  The major risk is of bringing these diseases into Australia – that’s what we’ve been saying all along,” he said. “Less risk doesn’t mean to say it’s no risk”

Mr Russell added that the industry would wait to see the report before finalising their position. “It’s difficult to comment until we’ve seen the actual report and what recommendations have been made by the dispute panel,” he said.

Mr Russell also noted that it’s possible the ruling may impact the Australian apple industry, but not how much. “It’s hard to say – it’s a question of what volume’s going to enter the market.  On the assumption that there is no disease, it’s purely down to volume, clearly a large volume is going to have a big impact,” he said.

The final report by the WTO is expected in the middle of this year.