August 22, 2012 / 3:17 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. defends restrictions on Argentine lemons, beef

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday defended its restrictions on imports of beef and lemons from Argentina after the South American country said it planned to challenge the measures at the World Trade Organization.

The sharp defense came amid escalating tensions over Argentina’s trade policies.

On Tuesday, the United States and Japan challenged Argentine government regulations that require prior approval of nearly all foreign purchases as a violation of WTO rules.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry did not comment directly on the U.S. and Japanese complaints but said it would file a complaint at the WTO over Washington’s policies that hamper lemon and fresh beef imports.

“The United States is surprised and disappointed at Argentina’s reaction,” USTR spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon said in an emailed statement.

“It appears to be part of 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 raised in the complaint,” she added.

U.S. trade officials have read news reports that Argentina plans to challenge the lemon and beef restrictions, but have not received official word of any action, Harmon said.

“Nonetheless, I can say that all U.S. measures relating to imports of Argentine products, including lemons and beef, are science-based and consistent with WTO requirements,” she said.

Argentina complained in its press release the U.S. market has been closed to Argentine lemons since 2001 for health concerns, even though other countries accept the fruit.

“Argentine citrus is exported to destinations with very high health standards such as the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, which do not question the excellent quality of Argentine produce,” the Argentine government said.

It said U.S. restrictions on Argentine beef because of foot-and-mouth disease were “unjustified” and had cost Argentine ranchers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.

“Although the International Health Organization has recognized the southern Patagonia region as free of foot-and-mouth disease, without vaccinations, since 2003, the U.S. government … has delayed recognition of this situation, and has unreasonably delayed the authorization for the importation of fresh beef,” the Argentine government said.

Harmon said the “the fundamental openness” of the U.S. market was reflected in U.S. trade data with Argentina.

Last year, U.S. imports of Argentine farm products topped $1.64 billion, while U.S. agricultural exports to Argentina totaled $154 million, Harmon said.

However, Argentina is one of the few countries with which the United States enjoys an overall trade surplus.

Last year, it exported $9.9 billion worth of goods to Argentina and imported $4.5 billion from that country.

Addtional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Cynthia Osterman

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