New US lamb handout catches Australia off guard

By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN farm leaders have expressed their anger at the United States Governments decision to give another US$100 million in assistance to its lamb producers.

The Australian Federal Government, which condemned the package as being out of proportion to the small size of the industry, will investigate whether it can overturn the package as a breach of World Trade Organisation rules.

“The way this whole, sad episode has been handled by the Clinton administration is extremely disappointing,” Trade Minister Mark Vaile told The Weekly Times.

“The package is a windfall gain for US lamb producers.

“The net result is that the US industry has absolutely no need to lift its game so long as the existing tariff quotas are in place,” he said.

The financial boost comes on top of last years decision by the US to freeze lamb imports at 1998 levels and impose a 9% tariff.

This action sparked widespread protests in Australia, with lamb producers picketing outside the US embassy.

Meat and Livestock Australia chairman David Crombie accused the US administration of applying a “band-aid” solution for struggling American producers.

“Subsidising producers with different cash payments will do little to improve the consistency and quality of US lamb or the structure and competitiveness of the US lamb industry,” he said.

The Stock and Land reports that, sadly, the US says its assistance package will be used to eliminate the sheep disease scrapie and increase consumer promotion.

But, sugget Australia and New Zealand, the funds will in fact be used to increase the efficiency of the US lamb industry to compete against exports.

Both countries even offered to part-fund the programs.

Australian lamb exports to the USA remain strong despite a 10% drop in volume resulting from quotas and tariffs imposed by the US Government in July 1999.

Australian farmers must be wondering whether US President Bill Clinton has been caught having another affair.

Legend has it last years import freeze and tariff followed a certain Senators threat to support the impeachment vote against President Clinton unless he helped Americas flagging sheepmeat industry.

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