meta-creation_date: 15 July 2003 The Philippines Government chose to announce a WTO challenge to Australia’s quarantine system on the day that the Prime Minister arrived in the country for a three-day visit. bq. In its application to the WTO, the Philippines said Australia is in breach of international quarantine trading regulations by keeping out the bananas and papayas. It said Australia’s quarantine system is not scientifically based and not in line with international standards, complaints which Australia rejects. Trade Minister Mark Vaile admitted to being disappointed that Manila had taken the step but said the government would defend its quarantine system.
The issue is the Australian ban on imports of bananas from Philippines—the world’s fourth largest exporter—on the basis of a claimed risk of disease for Australia’s hermetically protected banana industry. The problem is that our response to this risk is disproportionate to our national interest. The Moko and Sigatoka bugs do seem to represent at least a theoretical threat to Australian production. But the economic importance of the threat has not been properly assessed by the Australian quarantine authorities. They have not accurately determined the economic scale of the risk and they have made no assessment of the cost of risk mitigation versus the benefits. It appears that Australia has only one reaction to any level of import risk greater than zero: an import ban or a restriction so close to a ban it makes no difference. The EU is pursuing a broad-ranging WTO case against Australia’s quarantine procedures on exactly these grounds. We can’t go on defending this absurd and expensive system: it’s time to make some economically rational changes.