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Productivity Commission’s bum steer on trade agenda

16 July 2010

RECOMMENDATIONS in a draft review of bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), released today by the Productivity Commission (PC), would lower the threshold for Australian trade negotiations and carve out our precious farm exports, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) warned.

The misguided draft states:

“In determining its approach to particular bilateral and regional trade agreements, Australia should adopt a more flexible approach to the comprehensiveness of agreements, including considering services sector-only agreements”.

“Cracking new world markets for our farm exports, which already earn the country $32 billion-a-year, is essential,” NFF President David Crombie said. “All-inclusive trade agreements, whether they are bilateral or multilateral, must be Australia’s bottom line.

“Projected population growth will raise issues of food security within our region and comprehensive trade reform will be required to enable food to move from areas of surplus to areas of need. This will create both opportunities and responsibilities for Australia. The exclusion of food from the trade reform agenda is short-sighted in the extreme.

“Agriculture remains the most distorted area of international trade with average tariffs more than three times higher than non-agricultural goods, with some commodities facing anti-competitive tariff barriers of 800%.

“Australia is already a well-fed, prosperous nation with a growing population. Domestic food demand will increase commensurately. It follows that for Australian agriculture – and the regions, industries and 1.6 million Australian jobs it supports – to expand and prosper, we must export more.

“There are large gains for Australia’s net economic position in pressuring for agricultural trade inclusions. To take the easy road, as the PC suggests, would be selling Australian farmers, and Australia’s prosperity, short.

“If we are to remain sustainable and prosper, Australia has no choice but to pursue all-inclusive trade agreements to ensure the export side of the ledger works for us.

“In our 2010 Federal Election Policy Platform released this week, we called on all political parties to commit to comprehensive bilateral and regional trade agreements that deliver commercially meaningful outcomes for Australian farmers.

“The release of this draft PC report makes the necessity for that commitment pressing. We would expect the Australian Government and opposition parties to be making their position crystal clear post-haste.”

[ENDS]

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