WASHINGTON (DTN)--The U.S. sugar industry praised the Bush administration for leaving sugar out of the free trade agreement with Australia and became the only U.S. agricultural lobbying group to issue a statement Feb. 8.

Carolyn Cheney, chair of the U.S. Sugar Industry Group, which represents beet and cane growers and processors, said: "The pervasive government intervention that has grossly distorted the world market for sugar is a global problem and can only be effectively addressed in the WTO negotiations, not in a piecemeal fashion in bilateral or regional FTAs (free trade agreements). We applaud the Administration's treatment of sugar in the Australia agreement. It clearly demonstrates that an FTA can be successfully concluded without market access provisions on sugar and should serve as a template for all future FTA negotiations."

Cheney reiterated the industry's call to the Bush administration to reconsider and reverse the additional market commitments on sugar offered to the five Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) in the proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). "Additional access commitments made in CAFTA or other FTAs, when added to imports of sugar from Mexico that will result from NAFTA, will quickly render our current domestic program for sugar inoperable," she explained. "Thus, such commitments are inconsistent with the Administration's stated policy that domestic support programs for agriculture will be negotiated only in the WTO--not in FTAs."

Other U.S. farm and agribusiness groups had demanded that sugar be included in the agreement, partly out of fear that other agricultural sectors would have to make up for what sugar lost-and partly because they feared other countries would demand that sectors be left out. But a U.S. trade official said Sunday that he did not believe leaving out sugar would set precedents for other countries to leave out products that domestic producers fear would be hurt by increased imports.

A representative of the National Association of Manufacturers was the only lobbyist present at the Feb. 8 press event held by Zoellick and Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile. NAM lobbyist Frank Vargo released a statement from NAM President Jerry Jasinowski, who said, "This superb agreement can result in close to $2 billion in new U.S. manufactured goods exports."

Australian manufacturing leaders also praised the agreement.

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