Argentina Complains at WTO Over U.S. Curbs on Meat Imports

Argentina complained at the World Trade Organization about U.S. curbs on imports of Argentine meat and other products of animal origin.

Argentina says the restrictions, which were applied on hygiene grounds, lack scientific justification and violate global trade rules, the WTO said in an e-mailed statement today. The move comes just 10 days after a U.S. complaint at the Geneva-based trade arbiter over Argentina’s treatment of imports.

The U.S. is “disappointed” in Argentina’s complaint today, Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said in an e-mail.

President Barack Obama’s administration on Aug. 21 lodged a complaint at the Geneva-based WTO over measures Argentina applies to imports, including licensing requirements that it says unfairly limit U.S. exports.

In a tit-for-tat move, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said the same day that it would take steps at the WTO against the U.S. for allegedly blocking access of Argentine beef and citrus fruits in violation of global rules. The ministry accused the U.S. of resorting to “illegal protectionist practices” by using sanitary concerns as an excuse for not accepting the food items from Argentina.

‘Disturbing Trend’

“We are concerned with a disturbing trend in which countries engaged in actions that are inconsistent with their WTO obligations, retaliate with counter complaints rather than fix the underlying problem,” Harmon said.

The U.S. in 2011 imported more than $1.64 billion in agricultural goods from Argentina, while exporting farm products worth $153 million, according to Harmon.

Japan, the European Union and Mexico have also complained separately about Argentina’s import policies, saying they hinder foreign goods and discriminate between imported and domestic products.

The EU’s May 25 challenge against Argentine curbs on foreign goods ranging from glassware and irons to food processors and kitty litter reflected EU concerns about protectionist policies enacted by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Those worries came to a head in April, when Argentina seized YPF SA, then a unit of Spain’s Repsol SA -- an act that can’t be challenged under WTO rules.

‘Worrying Policy’

“While the EU’s WTO action on import measures is separate from and independent to Argentina’s Repsol case, the EU is responding to Argentina’s broader and systematic economic restrictions,” the EU said at the time. “The Repsol case, like the trade-restrictive import measures the EU challenges today, is rather to be seen as an expression of the same worrying policy pursued by Argentina.”

Argentina, whose $448 billion economy is South America’s second largest, after Brazil, responded to the EU complaint on Aug. 20 by filing its own WTO challenge against the 27-nation bloc over Spanish curbs on imports of Argentinian biodiesel.

Argentina’s request today for consultations with the U.S. is the first step in WTO dispute proceedings and means the governments must now hold talks for at least two months in a bid to resolve the matter. If the discussions fail, Argentina can ask WTO judges to rule.

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