STC Number - 79

Import restrictions on durian

Maintained by: Australia
Raised by: Thailand
Supported by: European Union; India; Malaysia; Philippines
First date raised: November 2000 G/SPS/R/20 paras. 11-14
Dates subsequently raised: October 2001 (G/SPS/R/25 paras. 107-108)
June 2002 (G/SPS/R/27 paras. 133-134)
November 2002 (G/SPS/R/28 paras. 186-188)
April 2003 (G/SPS/R/29 paras. 48-50)
June 2003 (G/SPS/R/30 paras. 50-51)
Number of times subsequently raised: 5
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/217 G/SPS/GEN/218 G/SPS/N/AUS/83
Products covered: 0810 Other fruit, fresh.
Primary subject keyword: Plant Health
Keywords: Control, Inspection and Approval Procedures; Plant health; Risk assessment; Equivalence
Status: Not reported
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In November 2000, the representative of Thailand reported that since 1991 his country had sought access to the Australian market for durian. However, due to Australia's constant requests for additional data, Australia's risk assessment was delayed and the draft import risk analysis notified only in February 1999. In August 2000, Australia informed Thailand that durian fruit imports would be permitted only under unduly restrictive conditions, including the requirement that 450 fruit must be cut open and inspected for each shipment of under 1,000 fruit, the normal size of a consignment. This 60% sampling requirement appeared to be excessively trade restrictive and contrary to the SPS Agreement. Furthermore, the seasonal limitation on shipments, as well as the requirement that fruit come only from the eastern region of Thailand, did not appear to be justified. Thailand's concerns were detailed in G/SPS/GEN/217.

The representatives of India, the Philippines and the European Communities indicated that they were interested in this issue and in further information regarding Australia's SPS measures.

The representative of Australia noted that when Thailand initially requested access for durian, it identified only three anthropod pests and 12 diseases of durian. There followed a number of requests for further information from Australia, and responses from Thailand. In August 1997, Thailand identified a list of 49 anthropod pests and 16 diseases of durian, and Australia commenced an import risk analysis. The representative of Australia stressed that the numerous bilateral contacts on this matter had resulted in an expansion of the scientific information available. He noted that it was difficult for any country, and particularly for developing countries, to have a clear awareness of the existence and prevalence of all relevant pests and diseases, although this information was critical for the undertaking of a risk analysis. This suggested that the SPS Committee and the relevant international organizations should address the need for better identification of the true pest and disease status of countries which wish to export their products.

With regard to the conditions established for import of fresh durian fruit from Thailand, the representative of Australia noted that these had been discussed with the Thai government while still at a draft stage. He explained the justification for Australia's requirements on cutting of fruit, seasonal shipments, and restricting imports to durian from the eastern region of Thailand. The delegate acknowledged that the conditions were very strict, but justified based on the pest and disease situation of Thailand. Nonetheless, these conditions would be reviewed after one year of trade. The detailed response by Australia is contained in document G/SPS/GEN/218.

In October 2001, the representative of Thailand stated that concerns over Australia's import rules for durian had first been raised in the Committee in November 2000. Assurances had been sought from Australia about Thailand's long held concerns over the undue strictness of import restrictions for durian. Despite numerous bilateral meetings, no agreement had been reached and Thailand requested that Australia seek to adjust its import restrictions to make them more commercially viable.

The representative of Australia refered Members to G/SPS/GEN/218 in which Australia had first replied to the concerns raised by Thailand. A risk analysis for durian had been finalized in 2000, after submission in 1997, by Thailand of a list of diseases and pests affecting durian. The risk assessment indicated that other non-destructive methods of sampling could be substituted if efficacy data could be presented to show they provided an equivalent level of protection. However no information had been received from Thailand that X-ray technology or irradiation could be equally effective in meeting Australia's biosecurity needs. Australia was keen to finalize bilateral arrangements so that inspections of packing houses and orchards could begin in Thailand and import permits be issued. Australia noted that once trade had commenced, it would be willing to review arrangements after one year to see if adjustments could be made while still maintaining Australia's biosecurity needs.

In June 2002, the representative of Thailand reiterated concern that Australia required cutting of the product for inspection purposes, and applied an excessive sample size. Australia had indicated that it was considering an alternative method, and Thailand requested an update. The representatives of Malaysia and the Philippines expressed interest in this issue.

The representative of Australia indicated that Australia was willing to consider alternatives to destructive sampling if their efficacy was shown. On the basis of joint trials, X-ray technology appeared promising. The representative of Australia offered to keep the Committee informed.

In November 2002, the representative of Thailand stated that his country had been seeking access to Australia's market for durian since 1991. He recalled that the issue had been raised on three occasions since November 2000. Australia's import procedures required the cutting of the products in an excessive sampling size that was not justifiable. The matter had been pursued on a bilateral basis, but to date no agreement had been reached. At the last meeting, Australia had mentioned that it was considering an alternative method of rapid scan for inspection of import durian. Thailand was of the view that Australia should have concluded its consideration of this method by now. He urged Australia to lift this unduly trade restrictive measure as soon as possible.

The representative of the Philippines, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, expressed systemic concerns and noted their interest in monitoring developments in this matter.

The representative of Australia recalled that the import conditions of fresh durian from Thailand were subject to review after the first year of trade. She clarified that other less destructive methods of inspection could be substituted for fruit cutting, if efficacy data showed that it could provide an equivalent level of quarantine protection from the key pests of concern. Australia was willing to continue to work with the Thai authorities to make progress on the assessment of non destructive inspection methods.

In April 2003, the representative of Thailand stated that since his country had first raised concerns over Australia's import restrictions on fresh durian fruits in 2000, along with issues related to prawn products and chicken meat, there had been little progress. Neither fresh durian nor chicken meat could be exported to Australia. Furthermore, the interim measures taken on prawn products had remained in place since December 2000. Bilateral consultations had taken place , but as yet so substantial progress could be reported. Thailand requested that Australia, in accordance with its SPS obligations, reply in a favorable manner to Thailand's concerns. Thailand was unable to accept the Australian import risk analysis of 1999 on fresh durian, since the measures it proposed were too expensive and stringent to be commercially viable. These conditions allowed the import of fresh durian only with destructive sampling techniques and seasonal limitations. Thailand urged Australia to adopt a more practical and commercially feasible measure for inspection.

Speaking on behalf of ASEAN, the representative of the Philippines noted systemic concerns related to this issue and ASEAN's interest in following any progress.

The representative of Australia stated that a number of substantive technical meetings had taken place on quarantine matters between Australia and Thailand since the last meeting of the Committee. A joint Ministerial declaration between Thai and Australian trade ministers had been issued on 21 November 2002, which called for enhanced consultation on SPS issues. On durian, the import protocol permitted imports between April and September. Australia would consider imports from all growing areas subject to the conditions set out in the import risk analysis. The issue of durian was discussed at a meeting of the joint Thai-Australian working group on agriculture, held on 3-7 March 2003, in Changmai. Although Australia had legitimate quarantine concerns with respect to durian seed borer, several alternative risk mitigation options had been discussed at Changmai including pest free areas of production, pest free production sites and reproscan inspection methods (in lieu of fruit cutting). The Thai authorities were considering the pest free alternatives and had agreed to a joint collaborative trial of the reproscan inspection methods this fruiting season in late April and June. A longer term solution might be irradiation and Australia understood that Thailand could be interested in conducting trials as no efficacy data was currently available. The representative of Australia stated that her authorities understood the Thailand's concerns and were keen to work towards a mutually agreeable solution.

In June 2003, the representative of Thailand recalled that he had raised the issue of Australian restrictions on durian fruit for the first time in 2000. Thailand was concerned with Australia's use of destructive sampling methods, notified in G/SPS/N/AUS/83, and believed that there were other ways to meet Australia's appropriate level of protection. Thailand furthermore believed that the Australian requirements were not consistent with the obligations of Article 5.6 of the SPS Agreement. The representative of the Philippines, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, expressed support for the statement made by Thailand.

The representative of Australia replied that Australia had stipulated the feasibility of using internationally accepted measures in the final import risk analysis Destructive fruit cutting was one such internationally accepted phytosanitary measure which was used by many countries. Australia had already indicated that it was prepared to consider alternative ways to address the quarantine risks associated with Thai durian fruit.