The U.S. government will request the establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel to rule on whether Mexico's imposition of anti-dumping duties on shipments of long grain milled rice from the United States violates free trade rules.

The move follows actions by USA Rice Federation members and rice-state members of Congress urging the administration to counter Mexico's anti-dumping duties. Bilateral talks last month between the two countries failed to address U.S. concerns. Now the WTO complaint officially enters the legal stage.

“This step is very good news for the U.S. rice industry,” said USA Rice Federation Chairman Gary Sebree, a producer from Stuttgart, Ark. “It emphasizes the fact our government leaders believe we have a legitimate case that has a good chance of winning.”

Sebree praised the work of U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Zoellick and the USTR's chief agriculture negotiator, Ambassador Allen Johnson. “They've been working hard on the resolution of this issue, and we'll support them in any way we can,” Sebree said. “These duties violate WTO rules and obviously go against the spirit of the NAFTA agreement.”

The settlement panel could be formed as early as December.