On the advice of its Agriculture Department, Thailand may well refuse to sign a trade memorandum proposed by Australia, instead accusing the country of discriminatory practices with regard to its current import regulations on Thai fruits, including durians. Australia's regulations on such imports are, according to Thai ministers, far more stringent than the rules accepted as international standards.

The issue was first raised last month at a meeting at the WTO's headquarters in Brussels, where Thailand told the committee on sanitary and phytosanitary measures that the Australian import regime was a non-tariff barrier to fair trade.

Excessively stringent regulations on pineapple shipments have caused the same problem for the Philippines.

Currently the Australian import rules state that Thai fruit entering the country must arrive between April and September and derive from the best growing regions in eastern Thailand. In shipments of 1,000 durians or less, 450 are cut open for inspection, a number that increases in proportion to the size of consignment.

Furthermore, all the costs incurred by Australian inspections, both on arrival and at Thai plantations, are paid by Thai exporters.

The director general of Thailand's Agricultural Department, Ananta Dalodom, believes enough is enough. While Australia has said that the measures are essential to protect its own agriculture from worms, representatives of Thai fruit production point to the registration system of high quality plantations and argue that there are effective methods in place to prevent infestation.

Dalodom is further concerned that while Thailand has applied international standards to Australian imports of grapes, apples and cherries, Australia is itself reluctant to use the same standards. Also, Australia is helping Vietnam to grow the durian fruit.

The Australian market is very important for Thai fruit producers, and is estimated to be worth 3.5bn baht during 2001, when exports will reach 800,000 tons.