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Australian PM Praises Ties With US, Criticizes Farm Bill - 2002-06-12


In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Australia Prime Minister John Howard has highlighted his country's close ties with the United States, especially in the war against terrorism. But he also criticized a recently-passed U.S. farm bill, saying it will hurt Australian farmers.

Prime Minister Howard expressed support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and noted that Australian troops are working alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Mr. Howard recalled that the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he invoked provisions of the defense treaty that has bound the two nations together for 50 years. "America was under attack. Australia was immediately there to help," he said.

But while praising overall bilateral relations, Mr. Howard did raise one contentious issue. He reiterated his opposition to a U.S. agriculture bill, which President Bush recently signed into law. The farm plan provides domestic subsidies of $173 billion over 10 years.

Those subsidies will make Australia's farm products less competitive in the United States, as Mr. Howard noted. "I understand that the demands of local constituencies and international responsibilities must be finely balanced. As a true friend, let me say candidly that Australia was intensely disappointed with the passage of the recent farm bill. It will damage Australia's farmers," Mr. Howard said.

On other trade matters, Mr. Howard expressed hope for a U.S.-Australian free trade agreement. But first, Congress must renew the President's authority to negotiate trade deals. Mr. Howard appealed to lawmakers to do just that.

The House and Senate have approved separate versions of the so-called "trade promotion authority" bill. Negotiators from each chamber are to work out differences in the two versions before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.

The United States is Australia's second-largest trade partner after Japan. Thursday, Mr. Howard is to meet with President Bush as well as Trade Representative Robert Zoelick.

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