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Protectionism is on the rise

AGRICULTURAL protectionism among developed countries has risen sharply over the past two years, wiping out virtually all the gains achieved since the Uruguay Round of world trade talks.

The gloomy revelation at last week's Outlook conference was balanced by news that the US is pushing hard to get a new round of farm trade negotiations underway this year. Against a background of weak commodity prices and poor farm incomes, agricultural assistance among the world's industrialised countries jumped from 32 to 37 per cent of production value in 1998, totalling $590 billion.

Last year, it jumped again. In 1987, before liberalisation began in earnest, the figure was 41 per cent.

"It's a real source of concern," Gerard Viatte, the food and agriculture director at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, told the conference.

"Ten years of painstaking effort has virtually been wiped out in just two years."

The worst offenders in 1998 were South Korea, Japan, Switzerland and Norway, which has assistance levels of 70 per cent, but the US also sharply increased its levels.

(Australia (6 per cent) and New Zealand (1 per cent) were among the lowest.)

The figures add to an air of pessimism about the prospects for further trade liberalisation which developed after the failure of last year's World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle.

Australian officials and farm groups have also taken the view that any new negotiations would be delayed until after the next US presidential elections.

But assistant US trade representative for agriculture James Murphy last week said the Clinton Administration had decided to "press ahead" after discusssions with Congress and relevant groups.

He said US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky had already been in discussions with EU and Japanese officials.


Any OZ politician who persists in mealy-mouthing platitudes of 'global level-playing fields' is a dead duck. Protection of our rural infrastructure and our jobs comes first. The new paradigms of trade negotiations does buggerall for our region. I shan't repeat what we really say to our representatives, but it ain't pretty.

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (, March 09, 2000

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