AUSTRALIAN trade negotiators will attempt to progress a free trade agreement with the US, and at the same time vent frustration with the protectionist US Farm Bill when Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile flies to the US for important trade talks.
The Acting National Party leader left for the US on Saturday to meet with US trade representative Robert Zoellick to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
The trip had been planned for December but was delayed by the events of September 11.
The aim of the meeting is to produce recommendations for Prime Minister Howard and President Bush on the best way to progress a FTA between the two countries, given both sides already agree that a bilateral agreement would be beneficial.
The inclusion of agriculture remains a hurdle though, with Australia pressing for increased access to the US market as part of the deal.
If agriculture can't be included, the government has indicated it will not proceed.
But Mr Vaile said the inclusion of agriculture in WTO multilateral trade negotiations would aid arguments for its inclusion in a FTA, and that bilateral deal would be just reward for Australia's pro-trade stance.
"If the US can do an FTA with Chile, Jordan, Vietnam and Singapore, why shouldn't it do it with one of the most open trading economies in the world like Australia," he said.
Mr Vaile will also meet with US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman to seek increased access for Australian beef, which is currently limited by a tariff rate quota and is causing a great deal of frustration among Australian exporters.
He will also argue for a reduction in the level of farm support provided by the US Farm Bill.
First of all he will press for a reduction of support levels, and secondly that any support must be decoupled from production.
"I would like to see the smallest quantum of money allocated with a restriction on the timeframe," he said.
From Washington, the Australian trade delegation will travel to the World Economic Forum in New York, to press for multilateral trade reform as part of a new round of WTO negotiations.