over farm bill
By CHELSEA CORMELL
THE National Farmers Federation is set to turn up the heat on prime minister John Howard as he prepares for bilateral trade talks with the US Government in Washington in two weeks.
NFF members voted unanimously at their annual conference last week to pass a motion that a message of outrage be sent to US leaders in the wake of the US Farm Bill.
The return to protectionism by the US was considered an attack on achievements by the World Trade Organisation and a threat to the current Doha round of talks.
In a bid to strengthen the free trade lobby, NFF agreed to tackle Mr Howard and the Australian Government for a stronger commitment to place agriculture at the centre of all trade agreements.
NFF president Peter Corish said calls by other industries to push free trade agreements at the expense of agriculture needed to be rejected.
"Our message to the prime minister is make sure the same principles that apply at the WTO, apply during bilateral negotiations," he said.
An informal agreement was made by NFF members to write to the Government appealing for agriculture to remain a priority during negotiations.
But it was crucial that bilateral trade talks did not distract the Government from the the big picture of multilateral free trade arrangements, Mr Corish said.
He said, despite 80pc increases in subsidies under the Farm Bill, the US remained a key ally in the current WTO round of talks.
"One of the real disappointments about the US anti-trade bill is that if Doha is going to be successful, we need the US on board or the EU will drive the agenda," Mr Corish said.
"Even though the US has continued to heavily subsidise its farmers, they remain philosophically aligned with free trade concepts."
NFF past president Ian Donges said the passage of the Bill had been particularly disappointing in regard to US leadership in the Doha round.
He said a commitment from the US government to reform world trade and remove unfair and distorting subsidies was paramount to its success.
"We urge the prime minster and (trade) minister Vaile to carry these messages from Australian farmers and the Federal Government to Washington as soon as possible," he said.
Australia was expected to take a leading role in the WTO negotiations, as chair of the 18-country coalition known as the Cairns Group, Mr Donges said.
Speaking at the conference, NFF deputy chief executive officer Lyall Howard announced the launch of a new international group of high ranking political and business leaders in Washington last week, which aimed to increase the push for free trade.
The 44-member group, known as the Airlie Group, was chaired by one of the most important US trade officials in the past 20 years, Clayton Yeutter.
It included representatives from six countries, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and strong support from Australian sugar, wheat and cotton industries.
Two big US food traders, Monsanto and Cargill were present at the meeting with the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand.
Mr Howard said Australia had an important role to play in both groups but to achieve real progress, the US had to come back on board.
He said bilateral deals improved market access but it was subsidies that hurt industry the most.
At an estimated cost of $US1 billion per day, it was the most wasteful policy the in the world, according to Mr Lyall.
"The fantastic thing about WTO, is doing a deal with 145 countries at once," Mr Howard said.
"It is hard but the gains are huge.
"NFF has to make sure the prime minister understands nothing can be done in a free trade agreement without agriculture deals being done first."
A second motion was passed unanimously that NFF pushed the Federal Government to conduct an impact study to assess the damage done by the US Farm Bill to Australian farmers and rural business.