The WTO's ruling on the illegality of Japan's import barriers on US apples brings closer the possibility of both internationally recognised standards and American trade sanctions.
US authorities have long maintained that Japan has unfairly banned US apples for the past 20 years using unscientific fire blight restrictions. Fire blight is a disease unique to certain fruit trees, causing flowers, shoots, twigs and sometimes the host plant itself to wither and die.
Japan is a potentially a major export market for US apples. The United States estimates that US apple exports to Japan would be $143.4 million in the absence of Japan's restrictions.
"Japan has unfairly used unscientific restrictions to block U.S. apple exports for years," said US trade representative Rob Portman. "This is a great example of how the administration is actively enforcing our trade agreements."
This is especially good news for the state of Washington, which produces around 60 percent of the nation's apples. Over 3 billion apples in the state are picked every fall.
In the event that Japan fails to comply with the recommendations and rulings of the WTO, the United States would move forward with its request for WTO authorization to impose $143.4 million a year in trade sanctions. This figure would be subject to arbitration at the WTO.
"This is an important result for the US apple industry and all exporters, as it advances the adoption of science-based regulations as the international language for the safe trade of agriculture products," said agriculture secretary Mike Johanns.
"We look forward to working with our trading partners around the world to ensure that our producers have an opportunity to trade without artificial barriers."
The WTO panel sided with the United States on all of the major issues in dispute. The panel found against the majority of the revised elements of Japan's import regime for apples, most notably the prohibition of shipping healthy fruit from orchards with any fire blight at all, and mandatory orchard inspections, orchard buffer zones, and various packing facility requirements.
Further, the panel endorsed the US argument that any hypothetical concerns regarding the spread of fire blight disease could be addressed by restricting exports of apple fruit to mature, symptomless fruit. The United States has already won earlier WTO proceedings against the Japanese restrictions.
Japan however still has the right to appeal.
"We are still thinking how now to proceed," Makiko Oshima, a Japanese trade official, told The Associated Press.