By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN exports to China are forecast to increase by hundreds of millions of dollars after China was admitted into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) recently.

China opened its doors to world trade after the USA and the communist state finally agreed on a number of outstanding issues that had blocked Chinas bid for membership of the WTO.

Australias agricultural leaders, according to The Weekly Times, have greeted the news with cautious optimism.

On the one hand they are relieved because of the enhanced export potential but on the other they are wary of changes to the global rules-based trading system.

“We welcome the possibility of increasing our trade with China and see this agreement as a further endorsement for the principles of trade, which is important in the lead up to the Seattle talks,” National Farmers Federation executive director Wendy Craik told The Weekly Times.

“But we should be on guard to the danger of being caught in any three-way subsidy squeeze between the USA, EU and China,” she said.

Already Australia is the second largest exporter of farm goods to China, and with the average tariff on agricultural products to drop to 17% by 2004, Australian farmers can expect strong growth overall.

For example, wine tariffs will now have to drop from 65% to 20% and beef tariffs from 45% to 10%.

The Weekly Times editorial said Australia farmers and other exporters who have been frustrated by Chinas ability to bend the rules to suit its needs in the past will welcome the news.

Woolgrowers in particular have borne the cost of Chinas ability to renege on contracts and force down prices.

The paper said China would also have to eliminate its corrupt trading rights system that gives government bureaucrats enormous control over who and what can be traded.

Exporters will now be able to deal more directly with their customers.