Thinking Urged on the Free Trade Agreement's Environmental Impact

Article excerpt

A study into the possible environmental impacts of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement predicted significant effects from the large expected increases agricultural production and transport, but has, more importantly, drawn attention to the need for formal assessment of the underlying environmental effects of Trade agreements, including from integral legal and policy issues.

The study was commissioned by independent think-tank OzProspect because 'the Australian Federal government has commissioned two studies to assess the economic impact of the agreement, but unlike in the US where environmental reviews are legislated, it has not conducted any research into the potential environmental impact of the Agreement.

The economic modelling of the AUSFTA, prepared by the Centre for International Economics, was used to convert estimated Agreement-related production gains in the intensive dairy and sugar industries into demands for water, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and transport.

The study also referenced CSIRO's recently published report, Future Dilemmas (see Ecos 117), which provides assessments of the disproportionate environmental effects of export-related agriculture on Australia's environment.

Secondary production effects

Michael Cebon, the study's author, reiterates that 'Australia at present exports 80% of its agriculture, but broad scale, export-oriented agricultural land use has resulted in serious environmental degradation, including salinisation due to land clearing and over irrigation, water overuse, high greenhouse emissions, and flow on effects like biodiversity loss and water pollution due to increased pesticide and fertiliser use.

Although the large, anticipated sugar and dairy industry quotas couldn't be negotiated into the Agreement at the eleventh hour, Cebon extrapolated that under the original, projected production increases, water consumption by agriculture would increase by up to 1.3 trillion litres per year, almost as much again as the total national domestic water use.

'The total amount of water required to meet the additional volume of exports identified by the economic models is equal to the volume of three Sydney Harbours and represents an increase of 7.5 per cent on Australia's current total agricultural water use of 17.9 gigalitres per year,' he writes.

The report urged wider consideration of associated production impacts, such as on the Great Barrier Reef and Australian river systems, because of increased land, pesticide and fertiliser use by the sugar and dairy industries.

'Transport increases', Cebon says, 'are likely to result in significant increases in national greenhouse emissions and pollution'. …