FTA alarms pig industry

18 Feb, 2004 10:00 PM

THE US-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) has alarmed the Australian pig industry, which fears a challenge to its quarantine laws and an increase in imports.

US pork producers welcomed the FTA.

US National Pork Producers Council (NPCC) president Jon Caspers said Australia was a huge potential market if it relaxed its biosecurity regime.

The Office of the US Trade Representative also named pork a product likely to benefit from tariff elimination following the 'resolution of technical issues'.

Australian Pork Limited (APL) was suspicious of this given Australia has zero tariff levels on many pork products.

"On the one hand, we have (Federal Trade Minister) Mr Vaile telling us there has been no compromise and that under the FTA all determinations in relation to quarantine and food safety will continue to be made on the basis of science," APL chairman Paul Higgins said.

"On the other hand, we have US authorities and the NPPC saying Australia's pigmeat quarantine protocols are still on the table."

Pinjarra grower Roy Christmas said a breach of quarantine would cost the industry millions of dollars because Australian pigs had no tolerance to US diseases.

He said if allowed access, US producers would need to undercut cheap Denmark and Canadian pigmeat to impact the Australian market.

"If suddenly America swamps it in, it wouldn't be just me leaving the industry, it would be the death of the entire Australian industry," he said.

He said the American hog market was so huge that individual piggeries could negotiate directly with Australian supermarkets.

"If processors think they can bypass the local producers and buy imported pork, then they better be prepared to be bypassed themselves," he said.

Ron Penn, general manager of processor PPC, said it would benefit the Australian industry if cooked American product was sent directly to supermarkets.

"If the processors were under the same threat from bringing in cooked product it would force them to sit back and think about the pressure they are putting on producers, boning rooms and abattoirs by bringing in fresh product," Mr Penn said.

He maintains PPC does not import pigmeat.

He said it was critical Australia's quarantine standards were maintained.

PPC's Singapore markets had considered sourcing cheaper pork from Asian countries due to the high Australian dollar.

But with the outbreak of bird flu, they stayed with PPC due to Australia's clean, green image.


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