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Argentina files complaint to WTO over EU biodiesel import duties

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Argentina on Thursday filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the European Union's decision to slap anti-dumping duties on the South American country's biodiesel.

The EU's move dealt a fresh blow to the world's No.1 biodiesel supplier Argentina, whose industry had already been hurt by previous restrictions imposed by the bloc while it investigated whether Argentina was "dumping" biodiesel, or selling it at below the cost of production, in Europe.

Argentina's Foreign Ministry called the duties "protectionist" and said the European bloc was seeking to shelter inefficient local producers.

The EU last month set biodiesel duties at an average of 24.6 percent for Argentina and imposed similar duties on Indonesian biodiesel.

"Instead of launching reforms to improve competitiveness, the European industry has sought and secured an administrative measure from Brussels, which is totally arbitrary and closes off the European market to competition from efficient biodiesel producers," the ministry said in a statement.

The WTO has 60 days to help the parties reach a solution. If they are unable to forge a deal, Argentina will seek the creation of an arbitration panel to resolve the issue.

The EU was the main buyer of Argentine biodiesel.

Argentina has lost over $1 billion in potential sales to the EU this year due to the duties, according to the country's Biofuels Chamber (Carbio), which includes agribusinesses such as Bunge and Louis Dreyfus Commodities.

In 2011, the last year in which shipments were normal, biodiesel exports to the EU totaled around $1.75 billion. That number likely plummeted to roughly $500 million this year, and could fall to nought next year once the new duties are fully implemented.