9 February 2004

Australia clinches free trade deal with US

The United States and Australia signed a trade agreement today that officials say will eliminate duties from more than 99 per cent of American manufacturing exports to Australia.

But in a blow for Australian sugar producers, the otherwise comprehensive agreement would not provide any more access to the protected US sugar market, an Australian official said.

The pact would also not lead to 'blue sky open trade' in the dairy sector, but would still provide much more opportunity for Australian dairy farmers to sell their products in the United States, the official said.

In another controversial sector, the pact would lead to free trade in beef over an 18-year phase-in period, he said.

'The Australian ambition in agriculture had to be moderated, but it will be a very, very good agreement for Australia,' the official said.

The text is not yet available. More when it is. Meanwhile:

  • sugar farmers can get stuffed
  • beef farmers can wait 18 years for removal of tariff protection
  • all agricultural sectors can wait forever for a reduction in US non-tariff protection such as their billion dollar subsidy schemes
  • quota protection remains in several agricultural sectors apart from sugar
  • the deal requires US congressional approval although not Australian parliamentary approval
  • no-one's taken any account of trade diversion if Asian markets look elsewhere for products they previously imported from Australia
  • mysteriously, the negotiators had a sudden rush to success within a day of the voting in Queensland

All told, it makes for a great press release and will probably cost the government 3 seats in North Queensland. It will be interesting, after Saturday night's performance in the Queensland tally room, to see what Bob Katter Jr makes of this.

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