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Thailand may carry Australia’s exclusionary shrimp rules to WTO  

Thailand has instructed its representative at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva to take a first step which could see the dispute with Australia over its pending rules on imported shrimp brought before the world trade body.

Chutima Bunyapraphasara, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said that Thailand planned to raise the issue of Canberra’s new standards on shrimp imports for consultation at the WTO committee meeting on sanitary and phytosanitary measures on March 1.

She said Thailand would prefer to discuss the problem under the framework of the bilateral free trade agreement with Australia, but if the parties failed to resolve it amicably, the Thai Commerce Ministry might have to bring the case before the WTO dispute settlement panel.

Ms Chutima met with the Australian ambassador to Thailand, Bill Paterson, on Monday to discuss the planned introduction of more stringent health rules on imported shrimp. She also handed a letter from Thai Commerce Minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet stating his concerns to the Australian envoy.

Citing its concern regarding a possible disease threat from white spot or taura viruses found in imported raw prawn meat which could contaminate Australia's wild-prawn and farm-prawn industries, worth 600 million Australian dollars (Bt16.82 billion) a year, Biosecurity Australia, a government agency, has recently released a draft import risk analysis for prawns, to be taken on shipments that could be hazardous to Australian consumers.

Comments on the draft can be submitted until February 21 before the analysis is approved and takes effect. Penalties include a ban of shipments from any country being identified as a source of white spot or taura viruses.

Thai shrimp producers fear that the new measures will act as yet another technical barrier for shrimp exports from Thailand, the largest supplier in the Australian market.

Ms Chutima said that unless there was scientific evidence of disease threats posed by imported raw prawn meat, including Thai shrimp, unilateral health rules such as these could be seen as unfair trade restrictions. Thailand would seek to have them revoked as it would cause huge damage to the country’s shrimp exports.

Earlier this month, Australia banned all shrimp imports from Thailand - before the new measures are in place - at the request of the state of Queensland after detecting white spot syndrome virus in a number of shipments from Thailand. (TNA)

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