U.S., EU blast Argentina's trade restrictions at WTO

Mon Apr 2, 2012 5:34am EDT
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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - Argentina came under a barrage of criticism at the World Trade Organization on Friday, where the United States, European Union, Japan and 10 other countries accused it of tying up imports in red tape.

Argentina's center-left government has imposed a raft of sometimes unorthodox import restrictions in recent years as it battles to shield local industry and its trade surplus, which shrank 11 percent in 2011 to $10.4 billion.

On February 1, President Cristina Fernandez's administration imposed a new system to pre-approve, or reject, nearly every purchase from abroad.

"It appears that this new system is operating as a de facto import-restricting scheme on all products," the U.S. ambassador to the WTO, Michael Punke, said, according to a transcript provided to Reuters by one of the participants.

The critics described the policy as "unbefitting any WTO member" and "particularly troubling" because they limit the growth-enhancing prospects for trade.

They demanded Argentina take immediate steps to reverse its policies or risk further action at the WTO.

Argentina has also been pushing importers to match their purchases abroad with exports, leading to quirky deals such as one whereby carmaker BMW exports rice.

Friday's joint statement at the WTO said government officials were apparently using arm-twisting tactics to enforce the agreements - a frequent complaint of local businesses in Latin America's No. 3 economy.   Continued...