The Australian Government says it has no choice but to accept a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling that its 90-year-old restrictions on New Zealand apples are unscientific and break international rules.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson said Australia accepted the decision and would conduct an import risk assessment.

"The Government has accepted the decision and will now proceed with a science-based review of the import risk analysis for New Zealand apples. The review will be conducted by Biosecurity Australia," the ministers said in a statement.

Australia imposed the restrictions in 1921 to protect local apple trees from fireblight, a pest that also affects pear trees and rose bushes.

New Zealand has been pushing for access to the Australian market since 1986, and after "exhaustive efforts" took the dispute to the WTO.

The organisation's Appellate Body found in favour of New Zealand in August, but Australia appealed the decision.

In a new decision released overnight yesterday, the body upheld its original findings that all 16 of Australia's quarantine measures were inconsistent with its legal obligations.

Under WTO plant and human health rules, any restrictions on trade must be based on a proper assessment of the risks using internationally recognised methods, as well as "relevant" scientific evidence.

Ludwig and Emerson defended the integrity of Australia's quarantine regime, saying the review would ensure Australia remained protected from pests and diseases.

"With our strong belief in the benefits of liberal trade, the Gillard government will accept the independent umpire's decision of the WTO," Emerson said.

Ludwig said the review would be based on the best available science and the apple industry and other stakeholders would be properly consulted.

"Just as for any other product, no trade in New Zealand apples can occur until quarantine measures that appropriately protect Australia and our agricultural producers have been determined. That will occur following the completion of the review."

Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Peter Beaven said he was delighted with the WTO decision.

It would probably be the 2012 crop, harvested between February and April, that would have access to the Australian market, he said.

However, it was now up to Australia to propose a timeframe, and if New Zealand did not like the timeframe proposed it could lodge a complaint with the WTO which would determine what was acceptable, Beaven said.

He expected the process to be over by this time next year.

The Australian Government could tell its apple growers that it had done everything it could, and it was time to move on. "That's what I expect to happen," Beaven said.

Trade Minister Tim Groser said he was looking forward to working with Australia to implement the WTO findings through an effective and durable solution.

"It's good to have the litigation process completed." Lifting the ban was expected to boost apple exports by $30 million over two to three years.

Prime Minister John Key welcomed the ruling and said if Australia continued to try to block access to the apple market - through quarantine measures or otherwise - he would take it up with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard.

"All of the roads have now come to a cul-de-sac for Australia and they do need to let our apples in. They could always try and play games but we would be very disappointed if they did that," Key said.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the ruling was hugely important and represented millions of dollars in export revenue.

APPLE CRUMBLE
* Australia imposed a restriction on importing New Zealand apples in 1921 to protect trees from fireblight.
* New Zealand has been pushing for access to the Australian market since 1986.
* Australia agreed to remove its ban in March 2007 but implemented harsh quarantine measures.
* New Zealand took the dispute to the World Trade Organisation.
* The WTO Appellate Body found in August that Australia's quarantine measures were inconsistent with its legal obligations. Australia appealed.
* Overnight yesterday the body upheld its findings.

- NZPA, Derek Cheng