Trade negotiators from the EU, the USA, India and Brazil – the so-called G4 – are meeting behind closed doors in Potsdam, near Berlin, in a desperate attempt to reach a concensus on the Doha Development Round of world trade talks.

Progress is dependent on the EU offering more access to agricultural markets in return for US concessions on its domestic support. India and Brazil are also under pressure to open their markets for industrial goods and services.

But UK and Irish farm leaders are concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on agriculture and not enough credit is being given for the reforms the EU has already undertaken.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Padraig Walshe said that the reductions in import tariffs already put on the table by EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson would cut EU prices by almost 50% on some high value beef products. “Without exaggeration, thousands of farmers will lose their livelihoods,” he warned.

NFU president Peter Kendal said it was essential that any deal should contain enough flexibility to help the most severely affected sectors, such as beef and poultry. “A WTO deal cannot be achieved at any cost and other countries, most notably the USA, will need to show their commitment to trade by changing their policies as well.”

His comments came on the same day as US legislators in Washington voted to extend the current commodity programmes – including direct payments, loan deficiency payments and counter-cyclical payments – for another five years. The vote by a House of Representatives sub-committee was seen as a signal that liberalisation is going to be hard to achieve as the US Congress seeks to develop a new Farm Bill this year.

“Every member of the sub-committee is sincerely interested in improving the safety net for our nation’s hard-working farmers, to ensure they can provide a plentiful food supply for the American family’s table,” said Congressman Bob Etheridge from North Carolina.