"We still do not have assurance that American farmers will see any returns from opening the border to Australian agricultural products," said NFU President Dave Frederickson. "While it appears our trade negotiators have attempted to limit the potential damage to our beef and dairy markets, the future implications of this agreement on these sensitive markets are ominous."

Assuming a return to normalcy in U.S. beef export markets, Frederickson said he expects Australian beef exports into the United States will increase dramatically in the second year of the agreement and will expand more than 70,000 tons within the first two decades.

He and other industry experts also anticipate increased imports of dairy products, including certain products previously excluded from the U.S. market. Import competition in our domestic seafood, peanuts and citrus markets is also expected to increase in the next several years.

"The Australian Free Trade Agreement opens the border to Australian dairy products at a time when dairy imports are at record levels and dairy prices have been at record lows and only now beginning a modest recovery. This deal also could open the door to Australian beef in the next three years, even if we have not recaptured our beef export markets because of the single incident of mad cow disease," Frederickson said.

"Instead of striking a trade deal with one of our largest competitors in these commodities, we should be spending more time opening markets for U.S. producers."

The U.S. farm leader said the agreement sets a precedent for future agreements to increase market access. "If the U.S. trade representative opens our markets in every agreement by just a small amount, eventually it adds up to a huge increase in imports," he said. "This incremental approach has the potential to be just as devastating as one big deal."

Trade negotiators did appear to address equalization of labor and environmental standards, which National Farmers Union has advocated for years. Frederickson said he also would like to see exchange rates addressed in this and future trade deals.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com