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BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters)—The European Union's trade chief said on Monday he would soon take measures against Argentina over its decision to expropriate the stake held by Spain's Repsol in oil company YPF, though he did not say what action he was planning.
Argentina's decision to seize control of YPF last month angered its biggest trade partners, who were already losing patience with protectionist measures taken by Latin America's third-largest economy.
E.U. Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht criticized "the growing tendency towards protectionism across Latin America" in a speech in Brussels on Monday.
"We will soon be moving forward with a response to Argentina's action in the Repsol case," he said.
Argentina has said it has reasons not to pay Repsol the full amount the Spanish group wants for its stake in YPF, which has been under intense pressure to increase production from President Cristina Fernandez's center-left government.
Madrid-based Repsol reiterated on Monday plans to take Argentina to the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, to seek repayment for the seized YPF shares and compensation for damages.
But a six-month period must pass before Repsol can present its case before the ICSID, a company spokesman said on Monday. Repsol will base the arguments for its case on a 1991 treaty between Spain and Argentina.
Experts say Argentina can argue that its takeover of YPF was in the public interest.
E.U. and Spanish authorities have struggled to come up with a response. Tough action is difficult against a country that has been shut out of world debt markets and has ignored international fines in previous disputes.
Mr. De Gucht has written to Argentina to express the 27-nation bloc's "serious concerns about the overall business and investment climate in Argentina", criticising the YPF takeover as well as import curbs.
Spain has said it will introduce a measure that could curtail its multimillion-dollar imports of biodiesel from Argentina.
Spain bought two-thirds of Argentina's biodiesel exports between January and March of this year, according to the private Argentine Biofuels Chamber.
The E.U. is worried about what it says is growing protectionism across the region.
On May 1, Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales ordered the army to take over the Cochabamba headquarters of power transmission firm Empresa Transportadora de Electricidad, a unit of Spain's Red Electrica Espanola.
The E.U. is also planning a complaint at the World Trade Organization over Argentina's import restrictions, which have provoked unhappiness in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia and other countries.
A U.S. official said in March that Argentina was restricting trade by requiring import licenses on all imported goods from Feb. 1 this year.
"Argentina has also continued other trade restrictive policies, like its import-licensing regime," Mr. De Gucht said in the same speech.
"And just last week we saw Bolivia take another step towards nationalizing utility companies at the expense of a Spanish firm.
"These types of moves are of course a problem for Argentina and Bolivia, which will find it harder to secure the international investment they need. They are also a problem for the European Union as our companies are directly affected."
BUENOS AIRES—Argentina's move to nationalize an energy company has made political risk underwriters even more leery of that country and may result in coverage drying up, at least for some risks.