Weed spread feared in free trade regime -- WTO

   By Peter Trott

FREE trade protocols adopted by the World Trade Organisation [WTO] could open Australia to a new wave of noxious weeds such as bridal creeper, double-gee and paterson's curse, scientists are warning.

  These and other non-native weeds deliberately introduced cost $3.3 billion a year in control, lost production and contamination, according to the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation].

  Researcher Richard Mack, who has spent 11 months with CSIRO Entomology in Canberra, said under the WTO protocols nations must have a scientific basis for prohibiting imports of living material in a free trade environment.

"Weed spread feared in free trade regime"

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  "Nations including Australia and the United States can no longer prohibit the entry of non-indigenous species simply because they are not native," he said.

  Dr Mack, professor of biological sciences at Washington State University, said an Australian native, Melaleuca quinquinervia, deliberately planted in the Florida Everglades, cost millions of dollars and was comparable to Mimosa pigra, a native of tropical America which infested 80,000ha [hectares*] of the Northern Territory and was one of Australia's worst weeds.

  Some imported plants took decades to emerge as weeds but the free trade protocols required that if a nation's objection to trade in a non-native species was overruled by the WTO, it had to allow its importation within a finite time.

  Few West Australians grow up without painful introduction to the spiky double-gee, brought from South Africa in 1830 as a vegetable called cape spinach. It now costs WA $40 million a year in control and lost farm production.

  Harder to measure but also important are the threats of weeds like bridal creeper, introduced as a garden plant and used to make bridal bouquets. It has smothered native vegetation including rare wildflowers in areas from Yanchep to Bremer Bay.

  Dr Mack said non-native weeds in the US [United States] cost $64 billion a year in loss and damage.

  "This is in effect a hidden tax we all pay and we will pay every year until we get rid of them," he said.

  National Farmers Federation president Colin Nicholl said the WTO imposed its rules on countries without understanding the risks they posed or accepting any responsibility.

  "There's no commitment on their part if they get it wrong and if they do we wear the cost," he said.

  Mr Nicholl said there was a feeling throughout much of the world that the spread of weeds and diseases was just a matter of time.

  "That's a lazy argument," he said.

  Agriculture WA technical officer Sandy Lloyd said another worrying aspect of the battle against introduction of potential weeds was the amount of plant material advertised on the Internet. -- © The West Australian, Peter Trott, Tuesday May 29 2001, p. 24

      © 2001 West Australian Newspapers Limited
      All Rights Reserved.
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* Hectare = 10 000 square metres, approximately 2.47 acres.

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A really good lead-in to democratic campaigning against monopoly globalism is at http://members.iinet.net.au/~jenks/ and/or a current issue of Citizens' Voice at http://members.iinet.net.au/~jenks/CV9.html   To get a feel for the buy-outs that is the usual method with transnational corporations, try the search engine http://search.au.altavista.com/ or Metacrawler, put the name of the corporation in inverted commas, and then browse the results.

Read the World Trade Organisation's own material at http://www.wto.org/   To read a spoof opposing and exposing the WTO, click http://www.gatt.org/

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