26 July 2002

Fischler nod for import controls

EU FARM commissioner, Franz Fischler, has been given the green light to start negotiations within the World Trade Organisation to tighten import controls for cereals.

A problem has arisen because existing tariffs are based on the difference between EU intervention values and market quotes in Chicago. But, after a bumper crop last year in the Black Sea region, large volumes of east European grain have flooded in at rock bottom prices, even after paying the import duties.

Brussels had sought a mandate to open negotiations aimed at setting new import quotas and fixed duties for these countries. But farm ministers were split on the issue at last weeks council meeting, with many saying this approach was too long-winded.

This week, however, member state representatives in the special committee on agriculture (SCA) came round to the idea that a quota-based system was best. French ideas to base the tariffs on Odessa grain prices rather than Chicago ones were dismissed as unreliable and open to fraud.

After a rubber-stamping job by ministers in the next few days, Dr Fischler will apply to the WTO to open talks.

Meanwhile, wheat prices have improved by £1/t in the UK, to about £55/t ex-farm for harvest movement. Promising French wheat quality and concerns over dry weather in the US have helped boost values and some farmers have sold grain forward for November delivery at £60/t, say traders.

Feed barley trade weakened slightly to about £51/t ex-farm for harvest movement as combines roll in earnest. &#42