By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN farm leaders believe US President Bill Clinton is seeking a last-minute deal on US lamb imports to satisfy its own producers while keeping Australia and New Zealand on-side.

National Farmers Federation president Ian Donges, in New Zealand last week for the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operative (APEC) group Trade Ministers meeting, said the US decision on lamb imports – already four weeks overdue – could come any day now.

In a report in the Stock and Land newspaper, Mr Donges described the delay as “historic”, saying no one could remember when a previous US trade decision had been deferred past the deadline.

“The delay has certainly been to our advantage as they are reconsidering our lobby efforts with more information and trying to seek a compromise decision thats going to give both parties some comfort,” he told the newspaper.

Mr Donges said an Australian and New Zealand delegation recently met US trade representatives to repeat their offer of a $US6 million (£3.8m) promotional package to help lift lamb consumption in the USA.

“And to be absolutely sure that this message has got through to the White House, we sent another copy of the promotion offer overnight to the White House chief of staff,” he said.

“Our aim is to work with US lamb producers, and we are offering them our money and intellectual property to build the domestic market for lamb.

“Americans consume one-fortieth of the lamb we consume in Australia, so there is ample room for Australian and American producers to take a profitable share of a growing US market.”

US trade representative Richard Fisher conceded last week that the delay was “totally unprecedented”. He highlighted the effectiveness of the Australasian lobbying effort, which has ranged from Prime Ministers to farm leaders.

While the two neighbouring countries may have made some inroads, most realistic farm leaders believe the USA will still introduce some sort of tariff-quota regime.

Many pundits predict a 9% tariff on existing imports and 40% on extra volumes.