By Boyd Champness
THE Australian Government is considering action against the United States in the world trade court as anger mounts over Bill Clintons new US$11.7 billion (7.35bn) safety net program for US farmers.
Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, lashed out at the “sickeningly protectionist” trade policies of the USA and European countries after it was revealed recently that the Clinton administration had approved a new aid plan for farmers.
Illustrating the hypocrisy of world trade, Mr Howard said the US successfully challenged a A$30 million (11.9m) government grant to Victorian leather producer Howe Leather in January, only to turn round and offer its farmers billions in handouts several weeks later.
“It makes my blood boil as the Australian Prime Minister that we can be called to account in relation to the subsidy that we give to the Howe leather company and be in breach of world trade rules.
“But the Americans and the Europeans are never called to account for the massive subsidies they give to the wheat industry and to the other primary industries of the United States and Europe,” Mr Howard told the Australian Financial Review.
“It shows the world is still loaded against Australia because we are an agricultural country. Its better now than it was, but its still manifestly unfair.”
Unveiling the plan in Washington, the US Agricultural Secretary, Mr Dan Glickman, said the $US11.7bn package would support “more producers of more commodities in more areas of the country”.
Australian farm leaders said it was no coincidence President Clinton announced the new scheme during the Presidents State of the Union address and during an election year.
“This package is not a safety net – its a feather bed for uncompetitive US farmers,” National Farmers Federation president Ian Donges told The Weekly Times.
“[Its] a blatant vote buying exercise and once again highlights the hypocrisy of the Clinton Administrations commitment to free trade.”
Under the plan, US farmers would receive $US30,000 (11,900) in additional payments if their incomes fall below 92% of the previous five-year average.
Trade Minister Mark Vaile told The Weekly Times that Australia would come down hard on the US if the plan is found to contravene WTO rules.
“My department is examining every item in the US farm aid package to see whether it is WTO compliant,” Mr Vaile said.
He also told the newspaper that Australia would push for “tighter and fairer” rules on world farm trade rules to make sure proposals like the Clinton plan were outlawed in future.