16 August 1999
US farm handout riles Australian leaders

By Boyd Champness

THE US Senate decision to pass a new $US7.4 billion (A$11.2bn/£4.6bn) Farm Aid Bill to protect American farmers against low commodity prices has angered Australias political and agricultural leaders.

The latest handout – a subsidy three times the size of Australias total net farm production – has the potential to keep global prices of grain and other commodities at rock bottom levels for at least another year or two if Congress supports the Senate decision and makes the bill law.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Mark Vaile told The Weekly Times that it was an enormous sum that could delay US agricultures ability to become globally competitive.

The minister will raise the issue with US trade officials at the next Cairns group meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of this month. In addition, the trade department is investigating to see if the latest handout is legal under World Trade Organisation rules.

According to The Weekly Times, the US decision contradicts a Congressional commitment made last September that a decision to pass a A$6bn (£2.44bn) farm aid package was a one-off that would not be repeated.

Under the latest aid package, US farmers will receive A$3000-A$23,000 (£1200-£9300),depending on the size of their enterprise, the paper said.