Vice President Dan Quayle, nearing the end of a five-day official visit to Australia, has irritated his hosts by refusing to acknowledge that U.S. agriculture subsidies are hurting Australian wheat farmers, government officials said Friday.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke was "agitated and tense" after a 90-minute meeting with Quayle during which the subject was broached, the sources said."The vice president just seems incapable of understanding that restrictive U.S. agricultural policies are affecting Australia," Trade Minister Michael Duffy said.

Quayle arrived in Australia Wednesday for a five-day on the first leg of an Asian visit expected to include Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

He was scheduled to attend a luncheon in Sydney Friday before flying to Queensland in northeastern Australia Saturday.

Government officials meeting with Quayle have voiced strong objections to U.S. farm subsidies, which they say undercut Australian wheat farmers.

Quayle, in a speech Thursday before the National Press Club, responded by saying the Bush administration favors free market policies generally but was compelled to subsidize U.S. agricultural products because of similar protective measures adopted by the European Community.

"That program is aimed squarely at Europe and the subsidies that Europe has," Quayle said.

Hawke was vehement Thursday in his public comments about the dispute over the effects of the U.S. Export Enhancement Program (EEP).

"If a bullet hits you in the head, it hurts just as much if it was not aimed at you as if it was aimed," he said.

Hawke said Australia had suffered a significant loss of markets because of the U.S. subsidies, with wheat exports to the Soviet Union dropping 91 percent.

"Now these sort of figures are not figments of our imagination, they are cold, hard and brutally hurtful economic statistics which have adversely affected our farmers, our wheat farmers," Hawke said.