Cattle farmers win with Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal

NORTHERN Rivers beef and sugar farmers are both poised to benefit from a new international trade deal negotiated by the Federal Government.

The Trans Pacific Partnership has been hailed by Trade Minister Andrew Robb as the "biggest global trade deal in 20 years" and covers everything from health and medicines, to education, iron ore, and sugar, to name just a few.

The deal, signed in Atlanta last night after a long and intense negotiating period, means the elimination of 98% of tariffs imposed on Australian exports to the 12 Pacific Rim signatory nations - which together accounted for a third of all Aussie exports last year totalling $109 billion.

That makes it the biggest trade deal since the 1994 Uruguay Round.

In terms of local benefits, the deal helps the Northern Rivers' important beef and sugar industries, with the cow cockies looking to have got the best of it.

The deal delivers cattle farmers a reduction of beef tariffs to Japan to 9%, which eclipses the benefit of the previous bilateral free trade deal with Japan.

Chief executive of the Northern Cooperative Meat Company Simon Stahl said that reduction, which has come down from above 20%, was "enormous".

As a result, the deal could increase the value of beef across the entire supply chain, "which has the potential to benefit everyone".

"It definitely has a flow on affect," Mr Stahl said.

"With the dollar where it is, it's all impacting in a positive way."

It's worth mentioning the Trans Pacific Partnership deal has been criticised more generally for allowing sovereign governments to be sued by corporations if they legislate in a way that impacts on company profits.

Fortunately some of these measures - specifically in the health and environment sphere - were excised, which prevents tobacco companies plans to sue Australia for its plain packaging laws.

The deal was also in doubt over a US demand that would create a 12-year exclusivity period on new medicines before they could be reproduced at less cost, benefiting the massive US pharmaceutical industry, but this was ultimately negotiated down to five years.

The other big potential benefit for the region - and sticking point of the deal - was the opening up of the huge United States market to Australian-grown sugar, which has been off limits for years thanks to high tariffs benefiting US sugar growers.

But a statement from the Australian cane farmers' peak body, Canegrowers, said the outcome of the deal was mixed.

It said the deal's "major disappointment" was with the US maintaining a "protectionist stance" on market access for Australian sugar.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said "despite all of the logical, economic-based arguments put forward by the Australian industry and Government negotiators, the US sugar lobby was successful in blocking all but a small amount of additional market access" for Aussie-grown sugar.

But that doesn't mean Australian sugar exports to the US will stay flat.

Mr Schembri said there would be an annual increase of 65,000 tonnes going to the US, equating to a $13 million per year benefit for the Australian sugar industry

"Overall, the deal is net positive for Australian sugar, not in the ball park of what we would have liked from the USA market, but is certainly as a whole better than where we started 5 years ago," he said.

Locally, NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative, chief executive Chris Connors said our cane farmers would share in about 5% of the total Australian gains.

But Mr Connors was cautious about the benefits of the deal noting sugar was a protected crop in pretty much every producing country but Australia (including other signatories, Thailand and Malaysia) and the deal didn't appear to make too many inroads into this state of affairs.

"They're all protected, (so) they're naturally going to have profits from their tariff, and then they export their excess sugar out into the world market for cheaper prices because they're being subsidised," Mr Connors said.

On the United States' view, Mr Connors said they held the world should have zero tariffs on sugar but didn't walk the talk.

"They're arguing that we won't change unless everyone else does," he said.

"It's a fair principle, but it's never going to happen."

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