WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2004 (ENS):
The United States and Australia have concluded a comprehensive
free trade agreement, United States Trade Representative
Robert Zoellick and Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile
announced Sunday. They both called the agreement historic
and said it would benefit both economies without damaging
the environment. But critics say Australian tuna stocks
and American family livestock producers will suffer
if the agreement is ratified by both governments, as
Australia is a major trade and investment partner for
the United States, with two way annual goods and services
trade of approximately $28 billion and two-way foreign
direct investment of $60 billion.
"This is a great day for the peoples of two countries
with a long history of friendship and partnership,"
Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said Sunday, "This
is about delivering opportunities for exporters and
business people on both sides to further enhance a relationship
which is Australia's largest trade relationship. It
certainly will deliver those enormous opportunities
into the future to participate in the world’s
largest and most dynamic economy, equalling I think
about one third of global GDP."
The Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) will
not take effect until both Parties have completed their
respective domestic approval processes, amended and/or
passed any necessary legislation, and agreed on a date
for entry into force.
Zoellick said that during the negotiations, he and his
team consulted closely with members of the U.S. Congress.
"We have a strong partnership with them and I'm
pleased to say we've been encouraged by many members
of Congress, Republicans and Democrats. We know that
for some the sensitive issues of environment and labor
have made it more difficult for them to support trade
issues," Zoellick acknowledged.
"We hope that will not be an impediment,"
No specific environmental provisions are spelled out
in the AUSFTA. The Parties have agreed not to fail to
enforce their own environmental and labor laws in a
manner that would affect trade between them. And both
Parties retain the right to establish their own domestic
environmental and labor standards, and to adapt or modify
their own laws.
First proposed in 1992, the AUSFTA is the first free
trade agreement between the United States and a developed
country since the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement in
Under the agreement, a wide range of tariffs and other
trade barriers will be eliminated or reduced. The AUSFTA
will be of particular benefit to U.S. manufacturers,
Zoellick said. "This is the most significant immediate
cut in industrial tariffs ever achieved in a U.S. free
trade agreement," he said, "and manufacturers
are the big winners."
More than 99 percent of U.S. manufactured exports to
Australia will immediately become duty free when the
agreement enters into force. Manufactured goods account
for 93 percent of U.S. exports to Australia.
The agreement also provides for immediate duty-free
access for all U.S. agricultural exports to Australia,
totaling more than $400 million, including fruits, vegetables,
and processed foods. The agreement will also address
inspection procedures that have posed barriers in the
The agreement uses tariff-rate quotas in ways calculated
to address concerns of U.S. beef and dairy farmers.
U.S. above quota duties will be phased out over an
18 year period, and initial increased imports from Australia
will amount to a small percentage of annual U.S. beef
production - about 0.17 percent - and just 1.6 percent
of annual U.S. beef imports.
No quota increases will take effect until the Australian
ban on U.S. beef exports is lifted, or three years after
effective date of the agreement, whichever comes first.
The ban was imposed in December 2003 after a cow infected
with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), known as
mad cow disease, was discovered in a Washington state
But a U.S. network of 48 grassroots organizations representing
farmers, ranchers, and consumers from seven states says
the AUSFTA increases the power of the largest meat packers
at the expense of the small farmers and ranchers.
Gilles Stockton, a rancher from Grass Range, Montana
who speaks for the Western Organization of Resource
Councils (WORC), says the trade agreement has three
“First, this agreement will put many family livestock
producers out of business,” he said. “Second,
it gives even more economic power to multi-national
corporations. Finally, the process is blatantly undemocratic.”
Although cattle ranching is one on the most affected
industries in the trade agreement with Australia, the
U.S. trade negotiators never consulted with the American
“The U.S. Trade Representative negotiated away
the future of American agriculture without any input
from family farmers and ranchers like me,” Stockton
said. “That’s blatantly undemocratic.”
Three packers control and pack more than 80 percent
of all beef in the United States. The agreement increases
concentration because Swift and Co., the second largest
meat packer and procurer of beef in the U.S. is also
Australia’s largest meat packer, Stockton explained.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) Tuesday said
it could not support the AUSFTA because the agreement
is not free enough. The world's largest association
of food, beverage and consumer product companies said
the agreement is disappointing because it includes no
increases of U.S. imports for Australian grown sugar
and only minimal increases for beef and dairy products.
"GMA has consistently supported the Bush administration's
policy of negotiating no exclusions trade pacts, and
we are extremely disappointed that the administration
has strayed from this policy," said GMA Director
of International Trade Sarah Thorn.
"Exempting certain commodities from increased
trade opportunities severely limits the positive impact
of free trade agreements and will undermine the ability
of the United States to establish comprehensive agreements
with other trading partners."
Australia's tuna exporters are one of the winners of
the free trade agreement, but the Humane Society International
(HSI) is critical of the agreement, pointing out that
Australia's domestic tuna stocks will experience increased
fishing pressure as a result.
The scrapping of a 35 percent tariff on canned tuna
exported to the United States will put further pressure
on Australia's remaining tuna stocks and the ecosystems
in which they live, says Averil Bones, HSI's wildlife
Southern bluefin tuna is recognized as critically endangered
by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
Concerns have been raised over the status of important
stocks targeted by Australia's east coast longline fleets.
Yellowfin and bigeye tuna are recognized by the Australian
government's Bureau of Rural Sciences as "fully-fished"
in the Western and Central Pacific where catches peaked
in 1998, and "uncertain" in the Australian
east-coast fishing zone.
Australia's southern and western longline fleets target
bigeye tuna, recognized as "overfished" in
the Indian Ocean, and yellowfin, recognized as "fully-fished."
"Any further expansion within Australia's tuna
fisheries must be avoided to limit impacts of the collapse
in global pelagic and migratory fish stocks. Even fishing
at current levels, our limited tuna resources are stretched
to their limits," said Bones.
Over 70 species of fish and 30 other marine species
are taken as bycatch and byproduct by
Australia's longliners, and the society is concerned
"not only for fish stocks, but for the seabirds,
turtles and sharks incidentally taken in Australia's
fishing activities," Bones said.
"We call on fishers to put those extra dollars
they receive from the tariff cuts into ensuring the
highest possible ecological standards are achieved and
maintained across Australian fleets," she said.
The Humane Society is asking that Australian Fisheries
Minister Senator Ian Macdonald provide an environmental
assessment of the ecological effects of tariff removal
under the AUSFTA, and to ensure Australia implements
and finalizes all possible measures to ensure exports
of tuna are seabird, shark and turtle friendly.
Australia is a major trade and investment partner of
the United States, and in 2002 was America's 13th largest
export market for goods, and the 9th largest if the
European Union countries are considered as one destination.
Two way annual goods and services trade is approximately
US$28 billion, and two way foreign direct investment
is $60 billion. Australia purchases more goods from
the United States than from any other country, and the
U.S. enjoys a bilateral goods and services trade surplus
of $9 billion.
Australia is a key export market for U.S. manufacturing
sectors such as aircraft, autos and auto parts, machinery,
computers and electronic products, hemicals, and wood
and paper products.
Each of the 50 U.S. states exports to Australia, and
Australia is among the top 25 export destinations for
48 of the 50 states. The leading states exporting to
Australia are Washington, California, Illinois, Texas,
Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
"As far as we’re concerned," said Australian
Trade Minister Vaile, "the achievement of the ability
to be able to open up markets as far as our manufacturing
sector is concerned is very, very important. About 99
percent of Australia's manufactured goods will be able
to access the U.S. market duty free.
The services sector, the IT sector, and intellectual
property arrangements, are important to Australia, said
Vaile, but agriculture is perhaps the most important
sector. "We’re seeing significant opportunities
open up across the board for agriculture into this important
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights