By  on March 30, 2012

WASHINGTON — The U.S., European Union and 12 other World Trade Organization members on Friday increased the pressure on Argentina to end its import restrictions that are impacting a wide range of products, including an estimated $1.7 billion worth of apparel, footwear and textiles.

In a joint statement released in Geneva, the 14 WTO members requested that Argentina take immediate steps to remove or terminate the “import-restrictive measures and practices” or provide a detailed written explanation of why the Argentine government views its policies to be consistent with WTO rules. The group stopped short of bringing a formal WTO case against Argentina but warned that they will pursue the matter further if the country doesn’t respond.

They charged that Argentina’s import measures are “trade restrictive” and incompatible with global trade rules.

“We are pleased to be able to join together in the hope that Argentina will see the seriousness with which this large group of members views Argentina’s import restrictions and requests that the restrictions be eliminated,” they said.

The additional WTO countries are Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Turkey. The joint statement was delivered to Argentine diplomats at a meeting of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods on Friday.

“It [the restrictions] has basically shut down trade with Argentina,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which has worked with a broader industry coalition to resolve the issue. “It doesn’t matter where you bring the clothes or shoes in from — Peru, China, Vietnam or Brazil — you can’t bring them in unless you do a specific arrangement.”

The WTO members alluded to the specific Argentine sanctioned arrangement in their statement, which requires any foreign company importing to the country to agree to export, dollar for dollar, goods of equal or greater value or establish production facilities in Argentina. For example, Porsche was forced to agree to export Argentine wine to Germany in exchange for access to sell its cars in Argentina, Herman said.

Even the apparel brands that have tried to set up factories in Argentina have run into problems, because they cannot get access to imported yarns and fabric to make the clothes or the machinery to produce them, he added.

“Their goal is to say ‘Well, you can’t import clothes or shoes here, so you should make them here,’ ” Herman said.

The import restrictions include the use of “nonautomatic import licensing requirements, preregistration of imports and pre-approval of all imports into Argentina,” which the WTO members said is “adversely impacting imports into Argentina from a growing number of WTO members.”

They said the list of products subject to the nonautomatic import licensing requirements has expanded “greatly” since 2008. Currently, Argentina requires import licenses on 608 categories of industrial products, including footwear, textiles, apparel, luggage, bicycles, auto parts and plastics. Many companies shipping products to Argentina have reported wait periods of six months or longer to get approval and licenses for their goods, and some are denied import licenses altogether without explanation, the WTO members said.

The Argentine embassy did not return a call seeking comment.

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