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Australia Now Locked Into Growth: Howard On FTA

This is the transcript of comments by the Prime Minister, John Howard, shortly after the announcement of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.

He was interviewed by Steve Liebmann on Channel 9’s Today show.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard interview with Steve Liebmann on Channel 9.

LIEBMANN: Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Steve.

LIEBMANN: Well a deal has been done on free trade with the United States, did you have to lean on the President to get it through?

PRIME MINISTER: I think the credit for this deal belongs to Mark Vaile, I think Mark Vaile and his counterpart in the United States did a fantastic job and all the details were negotiated by them. And it is a fantastic deal and this is one of those things that is very much for the long term, we hear a lot in political debate about the need for people to ignore short term considerations and think of the longer term and what this arrangement will do is to lock the Australian economy in to the future growth of the greatest economy the world has seen, something like 97 per cent of our manufactured exports will enter the United States duty free, there are enormous opportunities in services and for the first time we’ll have available to us the opportunity to tender for the $270 billion US Federal Government procurement market. Now these are enormous benefits and there are also very significant gains in agriculture, we didn’t get any access in relation to sugar…

LIEBMANN: That’s not going to please Queensland sugar farmers.

PRIME MINISTER: No I understand that, but what I faced over the weekend was a decision as to whether we were going to scupper a deal that gave enormous benefits to the rest of the economy because we couldn’t get additional access for the Australian sugar industry, we’re not talking here about having given anything up for the Australian industry, but I faced that decision and I talked to a lot of people, including my own colleagues and I came to the conclusion that it would have been against the national interest to give up a deal that is going to be of enormous benefit for the rest of the economy because we couldn’t get something on sugar. And could I just say to the people in the Australian sugar industry I understand how hard it is, I know it’s very difficult and I intend, in the very near future, to sit down with the industry and see if there are additional ways, I stress additional ways, in which the Australian Government, the Federal Government can assist the sugar industry, recognising that because of the corruption of the world sugar markets there are some people in the Australian sugar industry that cannot remain viable and the best, most generous and most reasonable thing that the Federal Government can do is to give them a reasonable level of assistance to leave the industry as part of a restructuring package.

LIEBMANN: Prime Minister, this deal still has to get through the US Congress, are you confident it will?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s quite tough, the President has told me that he intends to fight very hard to get it through, which is a pretty big call in an election year. You have got to remember that each of us has our domestic political considerations, the cattle industry in the United States is very strongly opposed to this deal because it gives additional access to Australian beef producers and he will have a fight in the Congress but the important thing…

LIEBMANN: Phased in access isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, it is phased in access, yes, look of course it is. Look we’re not in that area, going to free trade overnight but everything that is in the Agreement in the agricultural area is additional to what we’ve got, we’ve got an upfront increase of about 150 per cent in the dairy quota, we’ve got phased in additional access for beef, smallish things in the overall scheme for things, for example the immediate removal of a 35 per cent duty on canned tuna, the capacity of the Australian seafood industry to export duty free, even the removal of the small duty on Australian wine. All of these things add up to very significant improvements and this has been achieved without the government compromising, despite enormous pressure from the Americans in areas like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

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