U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has taken steps through the World Trade Organization to resolve a trade dispute that has affected Washington state's apple exports to Indonesia.

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YAKIMA — The United States is stepping up pressure on Indonesia to resolve a trade dispute that has handicapped export of Washington apples to that important market for the past two months.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk last week instituted a formal dispute-resolution process through the World Trade Organization over new import regulations. Should direct talks fail to resolve the issue, a settlement panel could be requested, Kirk’s office said.

The regulations appear to be protectionist in nature, according to a news release issued by the agency.

Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said exports have fallen 63 percent since November. Year-to-date sales to Indonesia are 430,000 boxes. Annual shipments to that country have averaged 2.4 million boxes over the past several years.

Kirk’s office called the new rules an unfair restriction on exports.

Powers said the apple industry supports upping the stakes after months of diplomatic efforts failed.

“These licensing requirements and quota regulations need to be challenged,” he said. “We clearly are seeing a restriction on our ability to export to that market. This is a real problem.”

The regulations impose licensing requirements on importers; labeling rules; and a review of export paperwork by third-party inspectors before shipment. Besides apples products affected by the rules include fresh vegetables; flowers; dried fruits and vegetables; and juices. New quotas also impact beef and other animal-product imports.

Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said Indonesia is primarily a Red Delicious market that prefers smaller sizes of fruit. But he added importers also like to experiment with newer varieties.

“They are critical to our overall grower returns. They take a lot of different varieties. There’s always an interest in trying new varieties in Indonesia. The importers are willing to try new tastes and textures,” Fryhover said.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, said in a news release that the rules created an uneven playing field for Washington producers. “Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the union, and it is essential to our economy to hold our trading partners accountable for fair trade policies,” he said.