30 June 2000
Brussels backs cash-for-welfare

By Philip Clarke

FARMERS operating to higher animal welfare standards should receive compensation, according to the European Commission.

The suggestion, tabled at a World Trade Organisation meeting in Geneva, pointed out that higher welfare often means extra costs and unfair competition.

“There is growing concern among consumers and producers that, while the WTO is working to enhance the liberalisation of international trade, it does not provide a framework in which to address animal welfare issues,” it said.

The commission emphasised it was not trying to use animal welfare as a hidden form of protectionism, a charge frequently levelled at it by WTO partners.

Brussels would not ban imports from non-European countries whose farmers operating to lower animal welfare standards, it stressed.

“But trade liberalisation can lead to unequal competition and even drive down welfare standards in exporting countries,” said the submission.

“This could fuel opposition to trade liberalisation and the WTO. It may therefore be necessary to consider providing some sort of compensation to contribute to the additional costs.”

In a separate submission, the USA restated its call for an end to export subsidies and cuts in import tariffs, plus improved access for the products of biotechnology.

It also suggested reclassifying domestic farm support programmes into those which are linked to production and those which are not.

This could signal an attack on the EUs direct income aids, which are currently protected under the WTOs “blue box” arrangement.

That suggestion was vehemently opposed by the commission, which argues that measures such as area aid do not distort markets and should be maintained.

The Geneva talks are part of the agricultural negotiations launched earlier this year, aimed at furthering market liberalisation.