NFF targets trade reform

22 Nov, 2000 03:17 PM

THE National Farmers Federation is seeking more than $500,000 from the Farmers Fighting Fund to kick off a renewed push on trade reform. But with the World Trade Organisation process stalled and agricultural protection once again as bad as it was 15 years ago, the peak farm body says it is time to try a different tack. Instead of trying to beat the subsidising nations by lobbying from outside ‹ a tactic that has achieved only limited gains ‹ NFF now plans to target disaffected interest groups inside the US, EU and Japan and encourage them to white-ant the farm support systems from within. Likely allies include those who pick up the tab for the subsidies ‹ national treasuries, global banks, consumer and environmental groups and manufacturers who pay inflated prices for their inputs. NFF plans to arm such bodies with facts and figures and set them loose to undermine popular support for farm subsidies. Their ammunition will include the inflated food prices and higher taxes needed to pay for farm support as well as local issues such as the degradation of the Florida Everglades by overproduction of subsidised sugar. But Australian farmers will not be taking on the world all by themselves. The peak farm organisations in the other 17 Cairns Group nations are now considering whether to join the campaign. NFF last week gave the green light to the strategy, devised by NFF council members Ian Donges, Graham Blight, Peter Corish and Brendan Stewart and NFF trade director Lyall Howard, and agreed to ask the fighting fund for money. NFF also plans to revamp its communication strategy, enlisting state farm groups in a grass-roots push to explain the benefits of trade liberalisation to their members. Mr Donges said trade reform was perhaps the key issue on which NFF could deliver real gains for its members. "If there's anything we can do for our members as far as improving the prices for the products they sell, it's in this whole trade area ‹ and we should never underestimate those benefits," he said. "We're now looking at US$360 billion that's spent on subsidies to agriculture around the world. "Sugar producers in Europe, for example, get four times the world price for their products and in the US they get three times and those two large markets are surrounded by huge tariffs and trade walls." Meanwhile, NFF trade specialist Graham Blight accused Prime Minister John Howard of "coming across as a bit soft on trade" and called for Australia's trade policy to be firmed up. "The last thing we want is to be shot in the foot by our own government," he said.


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