As we reported here, in September China’s Customs agency announced (link in Chinese) that it would suspend imports of sugar apples (also known as custard apples) and wax apples from Taiwan, because planococcus minor, a type of pest, had been detected in imports of these products. According to press reports, on November 3, Taiwan raised this issue before a WTO committee. The next steps in the dispute are unclear.
At the WTO committee meeting, Taiwan's permanent representative to the WTO was quoted as saying, "[e]ven if the fruit is found to have the pest at the border, it should still be allowed customs clearance after being fumigated." At a press conference (link in Chinese), Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou said that Taiwan had demanded that China resume trade in these products as soon as possible in accordance with the SPS Agreement and relevant international standards, and pointed out that Taiwan has strengthened source management and export quarantine measures, and has repeatedly requested China to have a scientific and technical dialogue on this case. However, she noted, China did not respond to these points, and Taiwan once again emphasized that the two parties should start a dialogue as soon as possible.
A statement by the Taiwan Council on Agriculture on the matter is here (link in Chinese).
As background, there are two WTO committees where "specific trade concerns" can be raised: The TBT Committee and the SPS Committee. Here, because the issue was plant pests, the SPS Committee was the appropriate forum.
As the WTO has explained it in the TBT context, "members raise [specific trade concerns] to find out more about the scope and implementation of each other's regulations." Raising a specific trade concern at one of these committees is a way to bring the concern to the attention of the government imposing it, and to the rest of the WTO membership as well. It forces that government to defend and explain the measure, and can generate support from other governments who might be concerned about the measure in question, or similar measures, or the general principles involved.
Previously, Taiwan has raised four specific trade concerns in the SPS Committee, none of which were against China. It has also raised 12 specific trade concerns in the TBT Committee, three of which were about Chinese laws and regulation, although for all of these Taiwan was one of multiple WTO Members raising the concern jointly.
It is possible for concerns to be resolved as a result of these Committee discussions, but it can be hard to predict how a particular case will go. Some cases are discussed repeatedly in successive Committee meetings; some disappear from the agenda quickly; and some move to the formal WTO dispute stage.
The next steps on the issue of these Taiwanese apple import restrictions are unclear. The SPS Committee tends to meet 3 times per year, and will likely meet again in March of 2022.