Howard’s End: Before The First Bomb Falls
By Maree Howard
Even before the first bomb falls on Iraq Australia looks set to benefit from joining the "coalition of the willing" as American trade negotiators gather in Canberra today for talks over the most significant trade deal in Australia's history. Maree Howard reports.
The first round of the landmark Australia-US free trade agreement begins in Canberra today while France's trade minister also flies into Australia to try and shore-up trade relations amidst anti-French sentiment.
Forty US delegates and 60 Australian negotiators will talk about deals estimated to be worth $4 billion to the Australian economy.
Cheaper US clothing, footwear and textiles are likely to be on the agenda while in the US Australian beef dairy products, sugar peanuts and cotton could be on sale in American shops shortly.
The stakes are huge with foreign ownership of Qantas, Telstra, banks and media up for discussion.
Australia also wants more agriculture exported into the US, protection for exporters against tariffs and better opportunities for services and businesses.
The US wants a better deal for its companies and changes to Australia's strict quarantine regulations which the US argues is a barrier to competition.
Both the US and Australian Government's argue that the trade talks beginning on the eve of a war with Iraq of which Australia fully supports and will commit troops are not connected.
US Ambassador Tom Schieffer said the fact trade talks coincided with the expected war on Iraq was not a ploy to coerce military support from Australia. He expected both Government's will do a trade deal because it is in the interests of both countries.