July 16, 2004

Senate Approves Australian Trade Pact



WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - The Senate approved a free trade agreement with Australia on Thursday, despite concerns that the accord could block efforts to allow imports of low-price medicine into the United States.

The vote, 80 to 16, sends the accord to President Bush, who is expected to sign it quickly. The House voted to approve the accord on Wednesday, 314 to 109.

The deal is considered a boon to American manufacturers, who estimate it could increase their exports to Australia by nearly $2 billion in the first year. More than 90 percent of United States exports to Australia are manufactured goods, and the agreement would eliminate virtually all Australian tariffs on those products when it is to take effect at the beginning of 2005.

The United States trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick, said the strong vote was a good sign for a trade deal with Morocco, which the Bush administration would like Congress to pass before it takes its summer break.

Some senators expressed concern about a provision in the Australian pact that they said could block efforts to reduce pharmaceutical prices in the United States by allowing imports from Canada and elsewhere. "What the administration is doing," said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, "is giving the drug companies the tools to raise prices in other countries while pushing policies that keep low-cost drugs out of this country."