By Robert Harris

EUROPEAN farmers lobby group COPA/COGECA is urging EU leaders to defend the recent common agricultural policy changes in the world trade talks due to begin later this year.

The policy forms the frame for the future of European agriculture and cannot be negotiated, it said in a recent statement.

“European farmers have made their contribution towards stabilising the worlds agricultural markets.

“It must be ensured that any future WTO agreement is compatible with the outcome of Agenda 2000,” says COPA/ COGECA. “There can therefore be no further concessions.”

The warning follows concerns among some politicians, notably farm minister Nick Brown, that the reforms do not go far enough towards meeting future WTO requirements, or eastern enlargement.

And the United States and the Cairns Group, which is made up of free trade enthusiasts including Australia and New Zealand, have both criticised the reforms.

The US position is difficult to understand, says COPA/COGECA.

EU producers are being asked to bear “very substantial” income losses as a result of recent Agenda 2000 reforms, it insists.

“Farmers are told they must accept these losses as their contribution towards liberalisation of world trade. Yet they see the USA making substantial increases to the support it gives its own farmers.”

Use of marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments has “soared dramatically”, with US producers receiving over $18 billion of assistance in 1999, compared with $10bn the previous year, it adds.

Top of the COPA/COGECA shopping list for WTO negotiations is the protection of EU agricultures diverse functions.

The sector must be allowed to develop a domestic market based on sustainable production methods and to follow a dynamic export policy to allow EU farmers and co-operatives to compete on world markets.

Its ability to enhance economic viability, employment and the environment in rural regions must be protected, says the group.