It is the highest tribunal within the global trade body and it has rejected Indonesia’s claims that its barriers complied with the WTO general agreement on tariffs and trade (GATT) and its agreement on agriculture.
Jakarta had appealed against a ruling made last December (2016) by a WTO disputes panel, which backed complaints made by major meat exporters the USA and New Zealand against Indonesian import controls. These had included a ban on all bovine offal products (except some cuts of tongue and tail); all secondary beef cuts, including beef blade, knuckles, chuck, inside round and outside round; all bovine while carcasses, and poultry parts. Washington and Wellington had also complained about how, for some other meat and poultry products, imports are only allowed if purchasers also buy meat from Indonesian slaughterhouses. The USA and New Zealand also had objected to some tight quantitative and minimum price limits on meat and poultry product imports, among other concerns.
In its appeal, Indonesia argued that many of these restrictions were not actually “quantitative import restrictions” and hence allowed under the WTO agriculture agreement. Jakarta claimed that Indonesia was allowed under GATT to restrict these imports to remove temporary surpluses of similar domestically-produced products. “We disagree with Indonesia,” was the blunt message laid down by the appellate body on this point.
The appellate body also refused to overturn the WTO panel ruling opposing Indonesia’s claims that it could legitimately and legally defend its restrictions as being good environmental, moral and conservation policies. Indonesia unsuccessfully argued, for instance, that the measures were necessary to protect halal food standards, while ensuring food safety.
And the appellate body refused to accept Indonesian claims that the disputes panel had made various procedural errors when issuing its judgement.
The latest ruling leaves the Indonesian government in a tough position. If it refuses to liberalise its controls, then the USA and New Zealand can ask the WTO permission to impose retaliatory duties on Indonesian exports of any kind. The revenue generated by these duties can match the amount of trade lost by American and New Zealand meat exporters through these unlawful Indonesian controls. Usually such permissions are granted, although Jakarta could contest at the WTO the level of these duties and the amount of compensation required.