By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAS lamb industry is hoping that US president Bill Clintons delay in imposing tariffs or quotas on Australian and New Zealand lamb could tip the debate in its favour.

Initially, the USA was expected to make a decision on 6 June. Pundits then predicted President Clinton would make an announcement earlier this week, but once again, there was no news from Washington.

The struggling US sheepmeat industry has called on Mr Clinton to impose tough restrictions on Australian and New Zealand lamb exports.

Any restrictions on Australias A$108 million (£45m) a year trade would be regarded as the most serious threat to bilateral trade between the two countries for several years.

Prime Minister John Howard telephoned Mr Clinton on the eve of the first expected announcement warning that US lamb tariffs would damage Americas bid to secure further world trade liberalisation.

He also reiterated that Australia would undertake an immediate World Trade Organisation challenge to the unjustified restrictions.

Mr Howard told ABC radio that Mr Clinton had taken Australias message on board. “Hes certainly well aware of how upset we are about the prospect of them applying quotas,” he said.

The Financial Review reports that the delay is due to the decision becoming the subject of intense lobbying within the White House.

Proponents of the tough restrictions have been countered by senior officials from the National Security Council (NSC) and State Department concerned about the impact on perceptions of US trade policy just months before President Clinton hosts a WTO summit in Seattle.

The President of the National Farmers Federation Ian Donges told The Financial Review that sources in Washington had confirmed that Australias reaction had added pressure on the USA to consider the “international trade ramifications” of their actions.

The prevailing view now is that the 10-day delay may have reduced, at least partly, the harshness of the restrictions. All Australia can do now is wait and see.