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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