WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington’s congressional delegation is asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to work with Japan to resolve technical issues and remove barriers to allow the state’s apples access to Japanese markets.

The letter, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-5th District, specifically calls out Japan’s overly restrictive policies that have effectively blocked Washington apple growers from shipping apples to Japan for decades.

“As you work with Japan to improve the trade relationship between our two countries, we respectfully request that you address the technical barriers to trade for U.S. apple growers seeking to export their top-quality fruits to this important market,” the members of Congress wrote Lighthizer.

“Our growers have long sought meaningful access to the Japanese market,” they continued. “Unfortunately, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) policies imposed by Japan have drastically inhibited their ability to ship apples to this high priority market for decades.”

Washington state grows roughly 67 percent of all U.S. apples and is responsible for nearly 90 percent of total U.S. apple exports. They have long sought meaningful access to Japanese markets, but restrictive import requirements have prevented them from gaining a foothold.

Since 2003, the United States has won two World Trade Organization disputes against the restrictive policies, but significant technical trade barriers on apples remain in place.

“We fully support the rights of countries to enact science-based measures to protect against the importation of pests and diseases that can be harmful to their domestic agricultural industries,” the letter said. “However, pest and disease concerns, not supported by science, are often used as an excuse to impose overly-restrictive requirements on imports that are intended to serve as market barriers and protect domestic industries against foreign competition.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has submitted a proposal to Japan that would protect against the importation of pests of concern, while also allowing market access for Washington apples. Japan has yet to respond.

“As the United States continues its negotiations with Japan to improve the trade relationship between the two countries, we respectfully request that the U.S. convey to Japan the importance of increasing U.S. apple access, including responding to USDA-APHIS’s April 2017 systems approach protocol and timely consideration of any proposed changes to the current apple work plan,” the members wrote.

In addition to Cantwell and Newhouse, the letter was signed by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, and Reps. Adam Smith, Rick Larsen, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal and Kim Schrier.

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