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Federal Court Finds USDA Failed to Apply Sound Science, Proper Documentation on Import Decision

FRESNO, Calif. - In what could be a far-reaching decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acted arbitrarily and capriciously and exceeded its statutory authority when it decided in June 2000 to allow Argentine citrus into the United States (Harlan Land Company, et al. vs. USDA, Case No. CV-F-00-6106-REC/LJO), according to Pierre Tada, co-chair of the U.S. Citrus Science Council (USCSC).

USCSC, a group of more than 5,000 citrus growers in California and Arizona, filed the suit because of its concerns that the importation of citrus fruit grown in regions of Argentina, where serious plant pests and diseases are prevalent, poses a grave hazard to domestic citrus groves.

Following the original approval of the Argentine citrus imports in June 2000, Argentine lemons were imported in small quantities during the past two summers. The federal court suspended imports of Argentine fruit into the United States until the USDA completes the additional scientific and regulatory work outlined by the court and issues a replacement rule.

"This decision comes at a particularly fortuitous time, as the U.S. and all other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) begin a new round of multilateral trade talks in Qatar in early November," said Tada. "This decision takes us to the second phase of implementation of the all-important Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement of the Uruguay Round. It is truly a landmark decision that will benefit all agricultural trade.

"This decision is extremely positive for international trade -- particularly for U.S. exports," continued Tada. "We believe this will lead to all members of the WTO providing a completely transparent rationale for all import and export decisions. This is precisely what the U.S. fought for in the Uruguay Round."
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