MILLAQUIN: Fresh cane arrives at the Mill to be processed into sugar. Photo: Simon Young / NewsMail
MILLAQUIN: Fresh cane arrives at the Mill to be processed into sugar. Photo: Simon Young / NewsMail Simon Young

Sugar trade talks stall but pollies optimistic

THE issue of access to the huge US market for Australian sugar was still not resolved in the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks in Hawaii at the weekend.

But sugar industry players are hopeful a deal can still be thrashed out.

The TPP will see a total of 12 countries in a trade deal with each other.

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt, one of five Queensland MPs who has threatened to cross the floor on the issue, said he was still hopeful a deal could be reached.

He said Trade Minister Andrew Robb had promised to stand firm for Australian agriculture.

"I'm pleased he's doing that," he said.

"I think we will get there."

Mr Pitt said this round of talks had ended but there would be more meetings later.

"It is a very large trade deal," he said.

Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd said he was hopeful Australia's raw sugar industry would benefit in the TPP after Mr Robb revealed on Saturday that provisional decisions were made on "more than 90% of issues".

"We don't currently know the outlook for the sugar industry, but I'm hopeful more information will become available in the next few days," Mr O'Dowd said.

"Andrew Robb has been a strong advocate to get sugar a fair deal in the agreement and he was unhappy with the original deal, so he is fighting for the raw sugar industry, as we all are."

Peak sugar body Canegrowers said while the delay in talks was disappointing, news that the all-important talks had not yet reached their conclusion has given the Australian sugar industry much needed time to ram home the strong message that protectionist blocks on Australian sugar are not appropriate in a modern trade agreement.

"At least in the short term it gives us some comfort that sugar has not been thrown off the table," Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said.

"The federal government remains committed to ensuring that sugar gets a fair deal across the line in the TPP.

"This is the largest trade deal in history and for sugar to miss out or receive a token offering would be absolutely devastating for Australia's sugar industry"

The Australian Sugar Industry Alliance (ASA) is also confident that an agreement can still be reached.

ASA spokesman Dominic Nolan said major companies and refiners in the US had put their support behind increased access by non-subsidised countries like Australia, in the face of their large and increasing sugar deficit.

He said the sugar industry would be mustering additional support from around the world to back Mr Robb and his team as negotiations track forward.