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Farmers warn against additional FTA review

30 October 2017

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is seeking more information on Labor’s FutureAsia policy proposal, released today by Shadow Trade Minister Hon Jason Clare MP, and has cautioned against additional FTA red tape.

NFF President Fiona Simson said the nation’s farm sector relied on a bi-partisan approach to strengthening existing trade relationships and developing new trade opportunities.

“About 65% of the food and fibre Australian farmers produce is exported. Australian farmers compete in a highly competitive global market against highly subsidised competitors.

“Preferential trade agreements are therefore key to the continued prosperity and growth of Australian agriculture and the 1.6 million jobs the sector supports.”

“Bipartisanship, that ensures FTAs and the negotiations towards them continues no matter what party holds office, is crucial.”

Ms Simson said the NFF welcomed innovative ideas to expand market opportunities for Australian farmers.

“The NFF is certainly supportive of efforts to tackle non-tariff trade barriers including potentially the FutureAsia proposal to better coordinate the Federal Government’s approach to NTB resolution.”

Ms Simson, said at first read, Mr Clare’s ideas to forge closer ties with China through extending in perpetuity China-Australia Week and establishing a China-based internship for young Australian professionals, sounded beneficial.

However, the proposal to task the Productivity Commission (PC) to conduct an independent economic analysis of FTAs could be problematic.

“Most FTAs are years in the making, involving complex, protracted negotiations between two or more countries.

“What the farm sector would not want to see is an additional level of red tape, that has the potential to hold back the benefits agreed to for Australians farmers, or worse still, derail the agreement altogether.

“Practically, we have questions about how such a review process would work.

“For example, if the PC was to conduct a review after the parties had agreed on the terms, how would issues identified by the PC be addressed and importantly how would this process impact the good-faith negotiations gone before?”

“There already exist robust processes for the Parliament to scrutinise trade agreements before they are ratified including the development of a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) which is considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).

“We must direct efforts and focus on supporting trade, not unnecessarily questioning it.”

Ms Simson said the proposal to increase the role of business in FTA negotiations was interesting.

“This has certainly worked well to date in the Indonesia-Australia trade talks."

Overall, Ms Simson said new ideas to expand Australian trade opportunities were welcomed.

“I will be talking personally with Mr Clare, and afterwards, I will be in a much better position to comment on the FutureAsia policy and what it means for agriculture.”

“I will be stressing that it is imperative that a bi-partisan, proactive approach to trade be continued.”

“Australia’s $60 billion food and fibre industry and the 1.6 million jobs it supports, depend on it."

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