Australia, India to speed up process to resolve farm trade issues

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Mr Peter McGauran - K.V.Srinivasan
Mr Peter McGauran - K.V.Srinivasan

M.R. Subramani

Chennai, Nov. 14

INDIA and Australia have "ignited a sense of urgency" in resolving quarantine issues that affect trade in meat, dairy and horticulture products.

According to Mr Peter McGauran, Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, both the nations have resolved to accord high priority to settle these issues that have been hanging fire for quite some years.

Mr McGauran, who was in Chennai on Sunday as part of his visit to the country from Friday last, said the decision to resolve the issues of larger market access to Australian products and quarantine was taken at a meeting with the Union Food and Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar.

He told Business Line that Australia had invited a visit by technical personnel to examine issues relating to dairy products and meat in February. An Australian official is likely to visit the country this month to discuss further on these issues with Indian authorities.

Currently, Australia is seeking increased market access to its dairy, horticulture and meat products. India is not allowing import of dairy products such as cheese on the fear that cattle abroad could have been injected with hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone to stimulated them to produce extra fat and muscle.

Officials fear a rise from linking oestrogen to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive disorders in men. Progesterone is feared to increase the development of ovarian, breast and uterine tumours in laboratory animals.

"We have told the Indian authorities that our farmers are not using these hormones, though we have told them that we can't give any guarantee," he said.

However, Mr McGauran said the authorities and Mr Pawar were told that there was no scientific basis for their fear and oestrogen was not "health risk". "In fact, these are safe and healthy," he said.

Australia, in particular, is looking at export of cheese that has long shelf life of India.

India also does not allow import of meat and beef from other countries. This is again on fears that the cattle in developed nations are fed with crushed bones, which is strongly suspected to the cause for mad cow disease.

This, according to McGauran, has led to India banning its market access to Australian lamb meat, mutton and beef. "It is against law to feed ruminants with crushed bones in Australia," he said.

In case of horticulture exports, Australia and India have been able to sort out the issue of fumigants.

According to the Minister, India is the third largest importer of Australian wool at A$155 million (Rs 516.50 crore). It also imports A$24-million (Rs 80 crore) worth pulses.

On the other hand, Australia is also ready to address the issue of access of its market for Indian mangoes. Though it had been importing mangoes earlier, the shipments were banned since 1996 due to presence of pests, particularly stone weevil.

"We are awaiting a farm survey before allowing Indian mangoes," Mr McGauran said. In particular, Australia could be examining the effectiveness of the vapour heat treatment of mangoes meant for export. The treatment is seen as an effective method to curb the weevil, which grows inside the seed, and Japan has already approved the method.

WTO farm talks: The Australian Minister said it was hard not to be pessimistic about the progress in WTO agriculture talks. "There is little time left to solve the issues," he said to a question if the WTO Agreement on Agriculture would come into effect by April 2006.

"The European Union has to grant greater market access, specially to meet the offer from the US. For that, it has to drastically reduce farm subsidies," Mr McGauran said. "To be fair to the European Union, it has made worthwhile efforts," he added.

On expectations from India and the Group of 20 lead by it, he said the Cairns Group of countries that depend on agriculture exports looked forward to resolving the issue of higher tariffs.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 15, 2005)
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