AWB Ltd and the Grains Council of Australia held a forum in Seattle in the lead-up to the World Trade Organisation's ministerial meeting, vigorously arguing for trade liberalisation in the global grains sector. AWB chairman Trevor Flugge and GCA president John Lush debated Australia's views on how the practices of the United States and Europe hurt Australian farmers with US farm leaders, industry representatives from around the world and media. Speaking at the forum, Mr Flugge said AWB would take part in the WTO talks on behalf of Australian wheatgrowers. "AWB can take a place at the table because we are the farmers' company and, with the GCA, we represent their interests. Nowhere are their interests going to be more directly affected than through trade reform, or just as importantly, lack of it," Mr Flugge said. "There has been a great deal of posturing leading into the ministerial meeting and that is disappointing. It is important that world leaders and trade ministers recognise what is at stake and face up to reality. "Policies designed to support farmers from the rigours of the global marketplace are, quite simply, wrong < wrong for governments and, in particular, wrong for the farmers who they are designed to help." He said farmers faced two challenges, namely the rapid change in the wheat market and farming technology, and declining farm terms of trade. "The real problem for us in 1999 and beyond is that simply accepting a farm gate price is no longer viable," Mr Flugge said. "We must find ways to ensure that at least some of the value created beyond the farm gate is actually captured by the producer. "I believe that this cannot be achieved through traditional trading systems and these are clearly outdated. "If we are going to survive into the next millennium, marketing systems must ensure that producers capture the benefits of efficient marketing, or capture some of the multiplier effect as wheat becomes bread." The Australian system of wheat marketing was clear recognition of the future, where value chains would compete against value chains. It was also the best way to deliver on the "brand promise". The system recognised that the marketing relationship between producer and consumer had to go beyond that of a simple trader and capture value for both parties as a result of a unique relationship. "This is why Australian farmers get so frustrated at some of the domestic and export policies that operate in the EU and the US, which prevent their own farmers doing this and, if this is not enough, on occasion operate to effectively prevent Australian farmers from doing so," Mr Flugge said. American Farm Bureau Federation chief Dean Kleckner outlined US farmers' recognition of how important export markets were to US grain farmers and said the bureau welcomed the changes to AWB Ltd. Mr Kleckner said the US would now watch AWB closely to see that the new privatised structure delivered the transparency that they had hoped for. Mr Flugge will meet US House Agriculture Committee chairman Larry Conbest to discuss approaches to EU export subsidies, Chinese accession to the WTO and threats to the Freedom to Farm Bill.