GENEVA, March 20 (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization added its voice on Wednesday to criticism of the quality of Argentina’s inflation data, and said the country’s restrictive trade policies could fuel price pressures.
“The acceleration of inflation is a source of concern, although it does not appear to be fully reflected in the official data,” the WTO said in a survey of Argentina’s trade policies.
The documents were drafted by the WTO secretariat for this week’s periodic country review at the WTO headquarters in Geneva.
Trade policy reviews, which come around every six years for developing countries like Argentina, are a very rare opportunity for WTO officials to pass comment. Normally they remain entirely neutral, leaving the WTO’s 159 members to challenge each other.
The inflation data took into account only variations in the consumer price index in Greater Buenos Aires, the document said.
Argentina has already been reprimanded by the International Monetary Fund for the quality of its data, and it has been given until Sept 29 to take action.
The WTO also said that, while Argentina’s export policy was seeking to stabilise the price of exportable products in the domestic market by applying duties, a policy of discouraging imports could push up the price of imported products, affecting inflation.
According to official data, Argentina’s inflation rate was 0.5 percent in February, down from 1.1 percent in January. But the figures are widely disputed and private economists estimate consumer prices rose by 1.8 percent in February.
The WTO also said Argentina was using more non-tariff restrictions such as import licensing and registration requirements, but the clarity of some of its rules “tended to be undermined by the apparent lack of transparency”.
Five WTO members launched trade disputes against Argentina last year, alleging overly restrictive rules on goods imports. One of the five, Mexico, later withdrew its complaint after the two countries signed a pact on car imports.
But litigation brought by another three - the United States, European Union and Japan - is going ahead. The fifth, Panama, has made a wider-ranging complaint.
Argentina is likely to face a barrage of questions about its policies during the closed-door meeting on Wednesday and Friday, and WTO members have already sent written questions, resulting in a confidential 322-page dossier of Argentina’s responses. (Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by John Stonestreet)