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Australia Reaches Free-Trade Accord With U.S.

by 5m Editor
12 February 2004, at 12:00am

US - U.S. farmers have little to fear from Down Under - at least for a while, reports the Des Moines Register. The Bush administration reached a free-trade agreement over the weekend with Australia, one of the world's biggest producers of beef. However, the deal temporarily protects the U.S. beef industry from Australian competition.

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The administration agreed to phase out the U.S. quota on Australian beef over 18 years, but the slow increase in imports won't start for at least three years or until U.S. beef exports recover from the recent mad cow scare.

"It's a pretty minimal deal," said Chandler Keys, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Australia is now allowed to export 378,000 metric tons of beef annually to the United States. Under the new agreement, the initial increase in the quota would be about 15,000 tons.

The U.S.-Australian agreement also provides protections to U.S. producers of dairy products and sugar.

The administration has yet to resolve a dispute over a longtime Australian ban on U.S. pork based on hog health concerns. However, Australia is expected to finish a study soon that could result in a resumption of imports.

"It's a very significant potential market," said Nick Giordano, a National Pork Producers Council trade expert. He said the council wouldn't endorse the pact until the dispute was settled.

Congress will have to approve the trade agreement. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., who will oversee consideration of the agreement in the Senate, expressed concern that the pact excluded sugar to protect American farmers.

He also raised questions about a provision that would prevent Americans from importing lower-cost pharmaceuticals from Australia.

"Given the importance of this issue, I don't understand why it wasn't raised earlier in the negotiations," said Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The U.S.-Australian deal is the latest in a series of bilateral and regional pacts that the administration has negotiated as talks on a proposed new global trade agreement have remained stalled.

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 10th February 2004

5m Editor