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Chile free trade deal under fire

Weekly Times | November 19, 2008

Chile free trade deal under fire

Leslie White

HORTICULTURISTS have launched a scathing attack on the Federal Government following its vote to allow free trade with Chile.

The growers say there is no chance of Australia exporting produce to Chile, but fear Chilean produce will significantly undercut local growers if imported here.

Stonefruit Export Committee and Horticulture Australia advisory committee member Dom Cutri said the free trade agreement was "absolutely ridiculous" and the arrival of Chilean produce on Australian shores would be an "absolute disaster".

"It’s not going to help Australia, it will be a hell of a detriment," Mr Cutri said. "We’ve been betrayed because they (Federal Government) know how we feel - we’ve been fighting this for a long time and we’re struggling badly as it is to make ends meet."

Mr Cutri said the FTA also meant supermarkets could drive prices paid to growers down by threatening to import fruit from Chile, where he understands labour costs are about $20 a day.

Summerfruit Australia president Ian McAlister said fruit growers were "quite willing to engage with countries where there is the possibility of two-way trade".

"With Chile there’s no possibility of that," Mr McAlister said.

"The FTA was fast-tracked by the previous government - we’re very disappointed in the previous government and this one for fast-tracking imports."

Mr McAlister said under normal circumstances FTAs took four years to negotiate, but the Australia-Chile agreement was completed within 11 months.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Simon Crean did not return phone calls by The Weekly Times, but previously said Australia was a supporter of "global trade reform and trade liberalisation".

The FTA was "unlikely to impact greatly on horticultural trade", he said, partly because Chile had other export markets.

"Australia’s tariffs on horticultural products are already very low, zero in most cases," the spokesman said.

 Fuente: Weekly Times