Support fading for US trade deal

   Public support for a free trade agreement between Australia and the United States has fallen as the Iraq crisis has unfolded, according to opinion polling carried out for lobbyists representing Australia's cultural industries.
   The polling, by lobbyist Hawker Britton and pollster UMR Research, found that 60 per cent of respondents said they supported a free trade deal between the two countries last August.
   But by this month, the level of support for an FTA [Free Trade Agreement] had slipped to 51 per cent. And over the same period, outright opposition to an FTA climbed from 18 per cent to 26 per cent of those polled.
   A spokesman for Hawker Britton attributed the slipping support to growing anti-American sentiment because of the Iraq crisis and growing awareness of the Australian policies the US may target in trade negotiations.
   US and Australian trade officials are meeting in Canberra this week in the first round of negotiations towards an FTA designed to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade, investment and business between the two countries.
   The director of Hawker Britton's Washington office, Katherine Miller, said support in Australia for a bilateral trade agreement was obviously waning.
   "The Prime Minister needs to deliver a deal that not only protects Australian agricultural interests, but also maintains
low-cost prescription drugs in the country and keeps cultural programs intact, otherwise public support for the agreement is minimal," Ms Miller said.
   The polling, carried out in August last year and again in March this year, involved a phone survey of a representative sample of 1000 Australians.
   The latest survey showed that 51 per cent of respondents supported an FTA, 26 per cent opposed it outright and the remaining 23 per cent were unsure.
   But asked whether they would support or oppose an FTA if it did not cover agricultural products, 56 per cent of respondents said they would oppose it, while only 25 per cent would support it.
   Likewise, 56 per cent of respondents opposed an FTA that scrapped tariffs and industry protection for Australian manufacturers. About 70 per cent were against a deal that led to fewer Australian programs being shown on free-to-air TV, and almost 90 per cent rejected a deal that changed the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
   Hawker Britton represents Australian "cultural" industries such as film and TV program producers and the local music recording industry.
   This sector is concerned the US will use an FTA to seek reductions in local content rules and government subsidies for "cultural" industries, to boost the access of US firms in areas such as film production.
Australian Financial Review, "Support fading for US trade deal," by Mark Davis, March 21 2003, p 3
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