Don't trade off medicines and media for sugar says Fair Trade Network

February 4, 2004

"The Trade Minister is apparently trading off access to affordable medicines and Australian media content just to get sugar back on the table in the USFTA negotiations," said Dr Patricia Ranald, policy manager at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Convenor of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.

"Media reports today imply that Australia has given ground on allowing US companies to legally challenge investment rules, higher prices for generic medicines and Australian content in emerging media like digital television," said Dr Ranald.

"It appears the Minister has fallen for the oldest trick in the book, as the US suddenly removed sugar last week to force further concessions. The Australian negotiating position seems to be going backwards."

"This is completely unacceptable. The danger is that the Minister will cobble together any deal to save face. Because of the secrecy of the negotiations, nasty trade-offs could be hidden in the details and we will not see the full agreement until after the deal is done," warned Dr Ranald. "

"The government kept denying that these policies were on the table but had to admit they were when community organisations exposed the real agenda. Our Fair Trade Network of 83 community organisations has argued from the start of the negotiations that social policies which have nothing to do with trade should not be negotiated behind closed doors," added Dr Ranald. "We challenge the Minister to keep the public commitments made not to trade off these policies," Dr Ranald added.

Trade talk sweetens with sugar on table

Tom Allard, and Marian Wilkinson
Sydney Morning Herald
February 4

A free-trade deal with the United States is expected to be completed by the end of the week after the US agreed to put access to its heavily protected sugar market back on the negotiating table.

After marathon talks and a palpable sense of gloom among Australian trade officials and lobbyists participating in negotiations in Washington, there was a more positive tone after talks yesterday.

"We have a real chance of reaching a deal this week," said a spokesman for the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile. "We can't stay in Washington indefinitely but we are now in the final stages of negotiations."

The president of the National Farmers Federation, Peter Corish, who has been sceptical about the deal, said he was "more optimistic", and a deal would be finalised "in two to three days at the most".

Mr Corish said disputes over non-agricultural issues - especially foreign investment access, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and local-content rules for media - were all but resolved, leaving negotiators to concentrate on the most contentious area, farm exports.

Insiders said sugar, which the US said last month would not be part of the trade agreement, was back on the table.

The powerful US sugar lobby has threatened a political backlash if barriers to Australian producers are removed.

Mr Vaile's spokesman would not comment on the inclusion of sugar in the talks, except to say Australia would not sign a deal that excluded sugar.

In a sign the Australian farming lobby is prepared to compromise, Mr Corish said the most important outcome was that canegrowers eventually got "unimpeded access" to the US market, rather than removing barriers immediately.

A substantially better deal for dairy and beef producers is also a key Australian demand that remains unresolved.

Mr Vaile's spokesman confirmed the progress on non-agricultural issues.

The US has asked for its companies to have the right to legally challenge the Government if it refuses investment plans, and pushed for higher prices on generic pharmaceuticals to reward the intellectual property of US drugmakers.

The US has also called for local-content restrictions to be abolished on emerging media such as digital television.

"We are very keen to conclude this negotiation but we won't do a deal at any cost," Mr Vaile's spokesman said.

The US trade representative, Robert Zoellick, is due to leave Washington at the end of the week, giving the talks an effective deadline.

If talks fail - and insiders said that was a real possibility - the back-up is to adjourn discussions until after the US presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, said he was "ambivalent" about the trade agreement because bilateral and regional deals could come at a cost to poorer countries.

"It would be a tragedy if the world fragmented into regional trade arrangements because it leaves people out," he said in an interview in Washington.

He said the exclusion of many developing countries would create "an imbalance that cannot be sustained".

Dr Patricia Ranald
Principal Policy Officer
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Level 1, 46-48 York St
Sydney NSW 2000
ph 61 2 9299 7833
fax 61 2 9299 7855

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