Good news on Quarantine

The Australian government has “released(link to DAFF site)”: draft final import risk assessements (IRAs) on imports of bananas from the Philippines, pork from the USA and apples from New Zealand. The IRAs recommend that the current import bans on these inoffensive products should be lifted (conditionally) because there is no scientific justification for maintaining the bans on the basis of the disease or pest threat that they pose to domestic production. Good news! Regular visitors to this site might recall that I’ve been campaining[⇒ related story] against our protectitve [[quarantine_account qurantine measures]] for some time. There is every sign[⇒ related story] that the quarantine system has been abused by agricultural industries for protectionist purposes for decades and our trading partners (but not complacent Australian consumers) have lost patience with our [[quarantine_account implausible claims]]. On the basis of rigorous science alone, it appears, the Government has now concluded that some of the most protectionist bans are not sustainable. In his press release, the Minister denies that either the US Free Trade Agreeement or the EU or Phillipines WTO complaints against our quarantine barriers have influenced the recommendation to lift the bans. If that’s so, it’s a pity. Because the impact on trade relationships is a relevant consideration, it seems to me, in making a judgement on the response to a risk assessment. The government announcement also seems to respond to my criticism that the quarantine decision process does not take into account the economic consequences of the protection. In a major national conference on quarantine last year I described this ommision[⇒ related story] as ‘irresponsible’ and resulting in ‘half-baked’ decisions. Now, the Minister for Agriculture has directed his department to commission economic assessments of the “impact of imports on the affected industries” before the final decision on a response to the risk assessment is taken.  According to his “press release”: bq. “Local industries will be understandably concerned about the economic impact of any increase in imports,” Mr Truss said. “As always, I encourage Australian consumers to support Australian farmers when they make choices at the shops.” bq. IRA reports do not consider the economic impact of import competition on industries or consumers, as this is a separate consideration from the rigorous science-based process for addressing quarantine risks. This, too, is good news to the extent that some explicit, contestible economic assessments are finally to enter into the decision-making process. But it would merely be sly if the assessment focussed only on the potential loss of rents by the currently protected industries and not on the benefits to the economy as a whole from the opening of the domestic market for these highly protected products.

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