30 June 2000

Aids for higher welfare – EU

By Philip Clarke

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

The suggestion, tabled at a special meeting on agriculture at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, pointed out that higher welfare often meant extra costs, leading to 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 such as the US and the Cairns group. Brussels would not ban imports from countries operating to lower 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 US restated its call for the elimination of 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.

This was vehemently opposed by the commission, which in a further submission to the WTO this week argued that policy measures such as area aid did 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.

Even though a multi-disciplinary trade round failed to get off the ground following the turmoil of last years Seattle summit, there was a prior commitment to press on with farm talks.

French praise for Brits

BRITISH beef producers were applauded for their efforts to eliminate BSE and protect consumers this week by president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine.

In the week before France takes over the EUs presidency, the Frenchwoman also stressed the importance of member states complying with European law.

She stopped short of criticising the Paris government for its continuing ban on British beef, saying that judgement should be reserved until the final ruling on the case in the European Court of Justice, expected sometime next year.

"But from what Ive seen, I believe British farmers have done everything to provide all the necessary guarantees for consumers," she said, after inspecting export-certified South Devon bulls on David Ashworths Oak Tree Farm, Selborne, Hants.

"I have been deeply touched by the plight of British farmers," she added. "The BSE crisis has been very severe for them. I have made this visit to express my solidarity with them. I have eaten British beef today with total confidence and I wish British beef farmers the best of luck, here in the UK and elsewhere."