By Boyd Champness

THOSE damned Americans have done it again.

Just when it appeared the forthcoming Seattle World Trade Organisation talks were on track to deliver some meaningful reforms for world agriculture, another United States trade policy decision has thrown cold water on the process.

In a move likely to cost Australian sugar producers A$2 million (£800,000), the US Department of Agriculture has announced a reduction in the import quota available for Australian sugar.

“This is further example of backsliding by the US government on fairer trade and comes at a critical time before the WTO talks,” Agriculture Minister Warren Truss told The Weekly Times.

“The next WTO negotiations represent a moment of truth for trade reform in sugar and for the elimination of market distortions to achieve freer and fairer world trade,” he told the paper.

Opposition Trade spokesman Senator Peter Cook warned Australia could be in for a rude awakening at Seattle, and that there were other potential barriers to trade reform that Australia had no hope of countering.

“The growing power of the new isolationists in the US Congress make it unlikely that the US President will be granted fast track negotiating authority until well after the November 2000 election,” Senator Cook told The Weekly Times.

The fact that the USA decided to reduce Australias sugar import quota after pledging support to its cause at a Friends of a New Round group meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, only a week earlier, is all the more galling.

But Senator Cook reiterated that not all was lost. “In the last WTO round, the active diplomacy of Australia helped break through the traditional US-EU hostilities.

If the Millennium Round is to be successful, we must do the same again,” he said.