1 December 2003

US Congressman discusses US-Aust free trade deal

LEIGH SALES: Security and economics are obviously two different issues, but do you think that Australia's strong support of the United States and alliance in strategic and security areas will convince any people to vote for this economic agreement?

CAL DOOLEY: Well, I certainly think that there is a great deal of respect among a lot of my colleagues because of the unwavering support that Australia has provided for the United States, not just recently but really for the last 100 years, and it's that bond of friendship and respect I think is going to allow us to put together the bipartisan coalition that will ensure the passage of a US-Australia FTA.

But I think all of us recognise is that it really is going to be, the decisions are primarily going to be predicated upon the composition of the agreement, and we have to be prepared that there might be some sectors, certainly in the United States, that aren't going to be happy, they aren't going to see the benefits of an FTA.

If the President makes a decision that this is going to be very difficult, especially in an election year, that he might make a decision that we'll be better off delaying this for a few months before we brought it up for congressional approval.

But what I can say with great confidence is there is absolutely no question in my mind that we will pass a US-Australia FTA if the negotiations are finalised. The only question will be when. Will it prior to the November elections, meaning will it be in June or July or August of next year, or will it be delayed into the following year.

TONY EASTLEY: California Democrat Congressman Cal Dooley, speaking to Washington Correspondent Leigh Sales.

I'm actually uncomfortable with linking security and economic issues. I would hope that when Australia fights it fights for more basic principles than sugar quotas or preferential access for dried fruits.

The president's decision on when and how to present the FTA will be an interesting test for the Howard-as-hypercobber school of international diplomacy, as will the final clauses of the agreement on the PBS, services and cultural diversity. I would be really surprised if the agreement gets us serious and immediate access to the heavily-protected US agriculture market. Without that access I just cannot see that the benefits of the agreement can outweigh the costs. 2004 is an election year for Howard and I cannot see him wanting to offend the rural electorate.

We already practice free trade in almost all sectors. If the US wants to maintain an old economy of quotas and non-tariff protection is that our problem?

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