(July 23) Some in the produce industry fear Australia’s reputation for restrictive phytosanitary policies.

The Senate approved free trade agreements with Morocco and Australia in mid-July, with both votes finding overwhelming support.

The Senate approved the Morocco Free Trade Agreement 85-13 on July 21. The Senate passed the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement 80-16 on July 15.

Some produce industry observers have been cautious about the free trade agreement with Australia, considering that country’s reputation for restrictive phytosanitary policies on horticultural commodities, including apples and stone fruit.

In fact, the American Farm Bureau Federation did not take a position on the U.S.-Australia free trade agreement for that reason, said Dave Salmonsen, trade analyst with the Washington, D.C.,-based group.

However, Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, said the agreements will advance the cause of open markets.

“In the last 12 months, Congress has approved four new free trade agreements, all with large bipartisan majorities,” he said.

Zoellick said in a July 21 release that the Bush administration was putting Trade Promotion Authority to good use. The authority, granted by Congress in 2002, allows free trade agreements to be voted on by Congress on an up or down basis, with no amendments allowed.

Zoellick said the U.S. has completed trade agreements with 12 countries and continues to negotiate with 10 others.

Free trade agreements are completed with Chile, Jordan, Singapore, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Australia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic and Bahrain.

The U.S. is in free trade talks with Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Thailand, and with the five nations of the Southern African Customs Union — Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia.

In addition, Zoellick said the U.S. is committed to advancing the Free Trade Area of the Americans and the World Trade Organization negotiations.