Farmers plead with govt over Japan FTA
13th December 2006
Farmers have pleaded with the federal government not to forget them when it meets with Japan for negotiations on a free trade agreement next year.
Prime Ministers John Howard and Shinzo Abe on Wednesday formally announced, in trans-hemisphere press conferences, negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) would start next year.
Japan already is Australia’s largest trading partner, but it is hoped an FTA will liberalise those trading arrangements.
Farmers, miners and manufacturers all said the agreement could provide a massive economic boost to the Australian economy.
However, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) said it would only be happy with an FTA which significantly attacked Japanese subsidies across its agriculture sector.
NFF chief executive Ben Fargher said the success of the negotiations would hinge completely on agriculture.
"The farm lobby in Japan is very strong (and) Australian farmers are not in the business of decimating other farmers overseas ... but Australian farmers are very sensitive to not being included in FTAs," Mr Fargher told AAP.
Mr Howard promised farmers would not be forgotten in an echo of the US-Australia FTA where sugar was left off the negotiating table.
"We have agreed that everything will be on the table, including agriculture," Mr Howard said.
For Japan, the key interest will be on energy, most notably uranium, which already helps to create about 30 per cent of Japan’s electricity.
The Uranium Information Centre and Minerals Council of Australia both welcomed news of the FTA, heralding it as a fresh opportunity for Australia’s already booming resources sector.
"It’s a pretty smart move all round," Minerals Council executive director Mitchell Hooke said.
"Anything that puts a formal relationship to our trade on a government to government framework has a lot of political and trade clout that goes with it.
"Australia’s got a trade deal in the US FTA, we are moving to have one with China, Japan is toying with this whole issue of energy and resource security - that means open and contestable markets.
"So why wouldn’t you move to set up a bilateral deal with Australia when it is one of your major sources of energy and resources."
Fair trade groups urged caution in what was interpreted as an aggressive new push by Australia to bypass failing global trade talks and instead surge ahead with bilateral agreements.
The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network’s Michele (Michele) Freeman said stepping outside the safeguards of the World Trade Organisation meant extra caution was needed.
"This relentless pursuit of bilateral trade agreements will only result in unequal agreements that will not deliver benefits to the majority of people," Ms Freeman said.
However, Australian Industry Group (Ai group) chief executive Heather Ridout praised the aggressive tack.
"Particularly in the context of the stalling of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, it is important that Australia seeks to advance market access with its key trading partners," Mrs Ridout said.
Australia is already negotiating bilateral agreements with China, ASEAN-New Zealand and Malaysia and is moving towards opening negotiations with Chile and South Korea.
These negotiations have gone ahead despite the crumbling global talks driven by the WTO and started in Doha almost six years ago.
Labor cautiously welcomed the opening of talks with Japan, but warned it must not come at expense of the Doha round.
The exact date negotiations will start has not been set but a spokeswoman for Trade Minister Warren Truss said talks would start in early 2007.