This was expected for some time. The U.S. finally initiated a dispute against Argentina by requesting for consultations for what it called "restrictive import licensing procedures" that violate Argentina's commitments at the WTO. I have earlier blogged about Argentina's measures here, here and here. The E.U. and Japan are the other members that have also taken Argentina to the DSM. Reports of Argentina striking back with a complaint against Spain's biofuel policy is reported here. MoneyBox has a succinct analysis of the "tit for tat" policy surrounding some of these trade measures which typifies a "protectionist" trend necessitated by domestic compulsions.
The gist of the US request is reproduced below:
"Argentina often requires the importers of goods to undertake certain commitments, including, inter alia, to limit their imports, to balance them with exports, to make or increase their investment in production facilities in Argentina, to increase the local content of products manufactured in Argentina (and thereby discriminate against imported products), to refrain from transferring revenue or other funds abroad and/or to control the price of imported goods.
The issuance of CIs and the approval of DJAIs are being systematically delayed or refused by the Argentinean authorities on non-transparent grounds. The Argentinean authorities often make the issuance of CIs and the approval of DJAIs conditional upon the importers undertaking to comply with the above-mentioned trade-restrictive commitments.
These measures restrict imports of goods and discriminate between imported and domestic goods. They do not appear to be related to the implementation of any measure justified under the WTO Agreement, but instead appear to be aimed at advancing Argentina's stated policies of re-industrialization, import substitution and elimination of trade balance deficits.
Argentina's measures appear to be inconsistent with Argentina's obligations under the following provisions of the covered agreements:
(i) Articles III:4, X:1, X:2, X:3(a) and XI:1 of the GATT 1994;
(ii) Article 2 of the TRIMs Agreement;
(iii) Articles 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 of the Import Licensing Agreement; and
(iv) Article 11 of the Safeguards Agreement."
The USTR officially announced this request for consultation here. This also seems to be one of the first disputes wherein the new agency created for trade violation enforcement in the U.S. - The Interagency Trade Enforcement Center - seems to have played a role. I had earlier blogged about setting up of this agency here.
The Center has been established within the USTR itself and is headed by an Assistant USTR named as the Director of the Center. The setting up of the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center with representatives from Agriculture,Homeland Security, Justice, State, Treasury and the Intelligence Community is a good example of interdepartmental co-ordination to take on trade disputes with other WTO members. Most of the times WTO disputes are not the preserve of the Ministry dealings with Commerce alone. It has an impact on the jurisdiction of other departments as well and is usually concerned with areas concerning other departments. An agency that can co-ordinate this effort with a strong team of law experts, trade analysts and researchers, is perhaps, what is required for effective engagements within the WTO. Can this Center be a model for other countries, albeit with local modifications, to engage with the multilateral system?