Single desk on the line: US Ambassador

30 Jul, 2003 10:00 PM

AUSTRALIA'S single desk marketing systems would come under severe pressure as the United States and Australia tried to reach agreement on an historic unilateral free trade agreement by the end of the year.

US Ambassador J Thomas Schieffer told Farm Weekly during a farm visit to York on Monday that the single desk topped the list of "trade distortions" the US wanted to address during the current talks.

Mr Schieffer's comments follows last week's third round of talks in Honolulu that focused on market access.

"There is little way to argue that's not an intervention in the market system," Mr Schieffer said.

"We think competition is the answer both from the consumer standpoint and the producer standpoint."

He said a large number of Australian farmers supported opening up the wheat market.

"There's a good body of the agriculture sector here in Australia that would argue that they think they can get a better price without a single desk marketing system," he said.

Mr Schieffer said the US was looking at reducing its farmer subsidies as part of its efforts to open up more global markets.

"I think both sides have things that distort the market," he said.

"We are trying to move away from subsidies. We are trying to get to an open trading situation.

"When you really look at the positions of the US and Australia they are much more similar with regard to world agricultural problems than they are different."

Mr Schieffer said Australia and the US both wanted to create a world market that had less government interference.

"I think that the real difficulties both of us have are not with each other as much as they are with Japan and Europe," he said.

Another trade distortion the US would like scrapped was was what he called political quarantine restrictions.

"Quarantine restrictions are certainly understandable in many cases," he said.

"But what we would like to see is them to be more science based and less political.

"I think that in the end we are going to be able to hopefully work something out."

Mr Schieffer said the desire to have the trade deal completed by the end of the year was linked to the US political cycle.

"It's easier to do the deal the further away from an election and that's why we have this timeline of trying to get it wound up by the end of the year," he said.

"I think people can look at the deal on its merits and not on the politics of it.

"The closer you get to an election the more politicians, whether they are on the American side or the Australian side of the Pacific, tend to look at the elections instead of the merits of the proposal."

Mr Schieffer said negotiating agricultural issues in free trade agreements was always difficult because of the political clout of farmer groups.

"Farmers are influential in their domestic political climates," he said.

"They are here, they are in the US.

"I think we're going to be able to get it worked out and I think at the end of the day we'll get a good free trade agreement."

Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaille said he would be making requests to the US on market access next month.

The next round of talks will be held in Canberra in late October, followed by what is planned to be the final meeting in Washington in December.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association arranged Mr Schieffer's visit to two farming properties near York so he could get a first-hand look at rural issues in WA.

PGA President Barry Court said he believed Australian agriculture was in an exciting phase with the ongoing free trade agreement and WTO negotiations providing new opportunities for growers.

"There is no better time to do an agreement with them," Mr Court said.



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