Free Trade doctrine trumped Salmon import ban

  On July 19, 1999, The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) alarmed conservationists, anglers and domestic salmon growers by ending a 24-year ban on imports of uncooked salmon.  The ban was supposed to keep fish diseases out of Australia.   It must now be replaced by increased watchfulness by AQIS scientists.

  The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ruled that the salmon ban violated international trade obligations.  Australia, with a merchandise trade deficit of $7.9 billion in 1998, wants trading partners to remove import barriers -- and therefore cannot afford to be accused of "protectionism".

  There was immediate criticism from Tasmanian fishfarmers and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

by Brian Jenkins, Perth
September 4 1999

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  "This decision to allow salmon imports is an unacceptable gamble based on trade desire at the expense of basic environmental and quarantine control. Australia is allowing short term trade interests to undermine our marine and estuarine environments" said Ms Margi Prideaux, ACF National Marine Campaigner.   [Ref:Media release. July 22 1999 at http://www.acfonline.org.au/Whats%20new/mr07_22.htm ]

  The Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association reportedly called on the Federal Government to guarantee compensation to the industry of up to A$500 million in the event exotic diseases are imported. [Source: TSGA chairman, Mr Richard Doedens, quoted by Brendan Pearson, Financial Review July 21 1999, at http://www.afr.com.au/content/990721/news/news5.html ]

  The World Trade Organisation has sweeping power to enforce its rulings with compensation orders and punitive sanctions. And, if Australia wants to use those powers to challenge other countries, eg, the USA over its tariff barrier against lamb imports, we need to have "clean hands" ourselves.


  Commitment to "free trade" involves a sacrifice of values and standards in other areas -- social, environmental, human rights and health, to name a few.  The decision on salmon illustrates this -- and it must have been very galling for AQIS and its conscientious scientists to have to announce it at the insistence of the Coalition Government.

  The Government is pinning a great deal of faith in what it calls "global trade reform" (also described by some critics as the abandonment of environmental and labour standards in "a race to the bottom").

  AQIS was obliged to consider not only salmon but other fish species including trout, chars, sweetfish, galaxias, smelt, halibut, eels, herring, cod, perch, pilchards, bass, haddock, sea bream, hake, turbot, goldfish, tetras, livebearers, barbs and gouramis.


  The heart of the matter is that Canada, wishing to sell its ocean and farmed salmon to Australians, was able to convince the WTO that the Australian salmon ban was not backed by proper scientific analysis and that we cheerfully allowed importation of other fish, such as live ornamental fish and frozen baitfish, even though the disease risk could be considered at least as high as that for salmon.

  A conclusion that the ban shielded the local salmon industry against competition was hard to avoid.  Now, our markets will be open to several thousands of tonnes per annum of fresh, chilled and frozen salmon, principally from Canada and New Zealand.  There will be regulations "to ensure that products will only be available in the wider community in consumer-ready form (such as fillets) that offer negligible risk of disease establishment."

  Exporting countries will be subjected to scrutiny of their fish health control measures.   [Ref: AQIS media release, July 19 1999, available at http://www.aqis.gov.au/docs/pr/mrsalmondec.htm ]


  Australia has had animal and plant quarantine laws since 1908.  Administered by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) under the Australian Department of Primary Industries & Energy (DoPIE), these are designed to protect our valuable rural and fishery industries from imported pests and diseases. Protection of native flora and fauna is an important spin-off.

  The scientific knowledge and expertise has another spin-off -- arguing for the removal of quarantine and technical barriers to Australian exports in foreign countries.  From June 1995 to March 1997 AQIS helped in the introduction of 103 new arrangements for access by Australian exports to new markets including wool to Argentina, sheep, cattle and goats to Bosnia, animal food and pig semen to South Africa, meat and meat products, skins and hides to Croatia, organic oranges to Denmark, poultry and poultry products and emu oil to South Korea, pharmaceuticals to Japan and ostriches to the Philippines (1). It is therefore unsurprising that other trading nations are equally aggressive in the field.

  [Ref: (1) Australian Quarantine - a shared responsibility (The Government Response) Available at http://www.affa.gov.au/dpie/committee/quarantine/report/govtrsp2.html#International Obligations and Leadership


  In 1975, Australia established a quarantine ban against imports of fresh, chilled or frozen Atlantic Salmon.  The ban remained in place following a risk assessment in 1996 in response to Canada's formal complaint that Australia was in breach of the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement.  The breach was subsequently confirmed by the WTO's Appellate Body (appeals tribunal) on 20 October, 1998, on grounds that:

  Australia asked to be allowed to implement WTO-consistent quarantine measures by February 2000.  Canada challenged this through binding arbitration.  On 23 February 1999 the WTO Arbitrator ruled that Australia had until 6 July 1999 to implement measures which are WTO-consistent.


  Relevant import proposals must be lodged with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and are subject to a scientific import risk analysis (IRA) process which is set out in the AQIS Risk Analysis Process Handbook, available in PDF format at http://www.aqis.gov.au/docs/anpolicy/risk.pdf . (This publication also contains information about relevant international standards and agreements, including the WTO's SPS agreement.)

  On 30 March, 1999, the Executive Director of AQIS, Mr Paul Hickey, announced: "The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is proposing to accelerate import risk analyses concerning the importation of salmon and other aquatic products, in response to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) decision..."

  "AQIS must review its previous risk analysis on ocean-caught Pacific salmon from Canada  and the United States and, if necessary, modify existing import controls by the 6 July deadline established by the arbitrator," Mr Hickey said.

  At the same time AQIS will complete its risk analyses on salmon products from other sources, on ornamental finfish and on non-viable marine finfish so comparable risk management decisions can be made on these items, Mr Hickey said.


  Australian-farmed Atlantic salmon has a disease free status in export markets.  There is genuine concern that if fresh salmon is imported to Australia, some product carrying disease may find its way into the marine environment and seriously impact on the farmed salmon industry.

  AQIS in its report to the WTO concluded that there was an unacceptable risk of exotic salmon diseases being introduced into the farmed salmon industry in Australia, if fresh wild Canadian salmon is imported.  Wild Canadian salmon were found to be capable of carrying about 24 viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases not present in salmon farmed in Australia.  In comparison with imported pilchards, where no disease risk has been identified in testing to date, one may conclude that the importation of fresh salmon provides a greater risk to the marine environment.

  Fish imported for bait use are to be considered in a separate import risk analysis by AQIS.  This IRA has been given a lower priority than the Canadian salmon IRA for a number of scientific and economic reasons.  Although Australia has the right to cease importation of baitfish on precautionary grounds, pending results of the IRA, there would be immediate appeals for breach of the SPS Agreement.


  The SPS Agreement defines the basic rights and obligations of WTO member countries with regard to the use of 'sanitary and phytosanitary' (SPS) measures, which are measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, including procedures to test, diagnose, isolate, control or eradicate diseases and pests.  SPS measures may directly or indirectly affect international trade and should not be used as a disguised restriction on trade.

  WTO Member countries have the right to take SPS measures to the extent necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health, provided these measures are based on scientific principles and are not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence.

  The SPS Agreement encourages Members to base their national SPS measures on relevant international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Governments may choose national measures that provide a higher level of protection than relevant international standards, subject to conformity with obligations relating to risk assessment and a consistent approach to risk management.

  In assessing risks, WTO Members are required to take into account available scientific evidence; relevant processes and production methods; relevant inspection, sampling and testing methods; prevalence of specific diseases and pests; existence of disease/pest free areas; relevant ecological and environmental conditions; and quarantine or other treatment.  [Ref: AQIS Risk Analysis Process Handbook, Page 13 at http://www.aqis.gov.au/docs/anpolicy/risk.pdf ]


  Australian governments, both Labor and Liberal, have committed our economy to the view held by multinational corporations -- that all barriers to free trade should be progressively dismantled.  Unfortunately, measurement of the success of this policy tends to stress dollar values -- and ignores the full impact of social, cultural and environmental effects.

  By dropping tariff barriers at a faster rate than trading partners, our governments have exposed us to devastating competition from countries which have lower human rights, labour and environmental standards (and/or more favourable currency exchange rates) and can thus supply goods at a lower price.

  We now find that it is necessary for our own workers to be paid less, and for our high standards to be dropped in order to meet the demands of global free trade.  Thus, we place logging or mining profits ahead of environmental and cultural values; we shirk our international obligations on Greenhouse gas emissions.  It is no surprise, therefore, that we can no longer make our quarantine standards stick. -- Brian Jenkins, September 4, 1999.

Tassie defies salmon policies
By Heather Long

The State Government will usurp the authority of the Federal Government by imposing its own disease permit system on salmon imports.

It is prepared to go to the High Court to defend its right to do so.

The State's chief veterinary officer Rod Andrewartha yesterday applied his authority to declare Tasmania a protected area under the Animal Health Act.

The move is not an outright ban on salmon imports, but means that as of yesterday, anyone importing salmon products into the State will need a permit.

Primary Industries, Water and Environment Minister David Llewellyn said Tasmania's actions could stop all salmon from being imported to the State if necessary.

``And unless we are sure through the permit arrangement that the disease status of fish is appropriate, it wont come in,'' Mr Llewellyn said.

The Government's actions come after it was announced in Canberra on Monday night that transtasman salmon imports would be allowed into Australia from midnight that night.

The first consignment of New Zealand fish is expected to arrive this morning for distribution to markets in Victoria and NSW.

Mr Llewellyn said that Mr Andrewartha had based his decision on the knowledge that whirling disease, which attacks salmonids, already existed in New Zealand but not in Tasmania.

``If the product comes from an area such as New Zealand it will not be given a permit while we undertake the appropriate import risk assessment that we need to assess the situation appropriate for Tasmania,'' Mr Llewellyn said.

He said the initial prohibition of imports without a permit would be in place for 60 days but could and would be continued until the issue was addressed.

Mr Llewellyn said Tasmania would take the issue to the High Court if necessary.

Federal Fisheries Minister Warren Truss described the Tasmanian Government's actions as, ``political grandstanding''.

``The Tasmanian Government's claim that salmon imports may be infected with whirling disease is flawed. Whirling disease is found in some parts of the South Island, but only in trout, and New Zealand law prohibits trout being commercially harvested or exported,'' Mr Truss said.

Tasmanian politicians and aquaculture groups yesterday called on the Australian public to boycott NZ salmon imports.

Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association executive officer Tony Smithies said the association was appalled that the Federal Government had agreed to allow the New Zealand imports while the Senate inquiry into the issue was still in progress. -- Heather Long, ©The Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, Wednesday, October 20 1999  http://www.examiner.com.au/examiner/story.asp?ID=3711

STRIKING OUT: Tasmania's chief veterinary officer Rod Andrewartha has declared Tasmania a protected area under the Animal Health Act. The declaration means that salmon imports from diseased areas can be rejected. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE.

Click Brian Jenkins's Website at http://www.iinet.net.au/~jenks/ or contact him at jenks@iinet.net.au
Useful links about "Free" Trade: International Labor Organisation - Report on Child labour   Human Rights for Workers - the crusade against global sweatshops   Sweatshop Watch   Announcing Sweatshops.org   Suffer the little children - a special series published by the Ottawa Sun   -- ©SBS, Australia's National Multicultural Television Broadcaster

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