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INTERVIEW: Australia happy with Pacific trade progress, draws line on sugar
Phuket Gazette / Reuters

PHUKET: Australia is pleased with discussions with Pacific Rim trading partners on resolving disputes with foreign investors but will not agree to a regional trade pact unless it wins more access to the U.S. sugar market, Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of talks aimed at sealing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, Robb said Australia had given ground on many issues but drew the line at sugar, which was excluded from a U.S-Australia free trade deal a decade ago.

"We're discussing all sorts of options at the moment. Basically we have to get more access," he said in Maui, the last Hawaiian island to grow sugar cane.

Australia was not insisting the United States unwind its support for local cane and beet growers.

"The bottom line is to expose that market to some greater competition and I think they can retain their system but still expose the market to greater competition and we are well placed to participate in providing more sugar at a competitive price."

As the talks near completion, Australia, which has been sued by Marlboro maker Philip Morris over tobacco plain packaging laws, was still reserving the right to seek an exception from a chapter letting foreign companies sue governments over damage to investments, Robb said.

He said progress had been made on getting protection from health and environmental litigation, but he couldn't make decisions on the investment rules until seeing "the balance of
the package".

Another red line for Australia is a push by the United States to protect data used in developing next-generation biologic drugs for 12 years.

Robb said he saw no legitimate reason to extend the term past the five years Australia has.

SWEET DEAL

Data prepared by the Australian Sugar Industry Alliance for the TPP talks shows a shortfall in meeting U.S. domestic demand for sugar, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts to
2025.

Sugar refiner Imperial Sugar Co, part of Louis Dreyfus Commodities , has proposed Australia, which
exports about 100,000 tonnes of sugar to the United States, be allowed to export half the amount that Mexico exports - 1.6 million tonnes in 2015, according to USDA.

Warren Males, head of economics at Australian sugar group Canegrowers, called the proposal "quite reasonable".

American Sugar Alliance trade adviser Don Phillips said the United States was already committed to importing sugar under other trade deals. Importing from Australia the equivalent of half of Mexico's shipments "would probably destroy the industry," he said.
— Phuket Gazette Editors

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