30 June 2000

Ministers agree to seek relaxation of export restrictions

By Shelley Wright

UK farm ministers hope to submit a proposal to Brussels seeking a relaxation on the restrictions currently impeding beef exports by the end of the summer.

Ross Finnie, Scotlands rural affairs minister, said the issue was high on the agenda when UK farm ministers met about a fortnight ago.

"We agreed the need to develop a strategy to relax the date-based export scheme," Mr Finnie said.

Farming leaders and the meat trade have been demanding action for months, insisting the current DBES rules are unnecessarily rigid.

Only two British meat firms are currently licensed to export beef, Scotbeef and St Merryn Meat. And, according to Scottish NFU president Jim Walker, St Merryns export levels have remained relatively low because of the high costs of meeting the DBES standards.

"I accept that we have to work on this because the whole scheme at the moment clearly is in difficulty," Mr Finnie said.

A variety of topics was being examined by ministers, including a move to allow meat companies to dedicate their plants for export orders on specific days rather than having to use the plant for export-standard beef full-time.

Mr Finnie suggested the UK would also seek EU approval to allow bone-in beef exports to resume, as well as seeking a reduction in some of the bureaucracy surrounding the DBES.

He anticipated the four UK farm ministers would agree on a proposal within the next couple of months. It would then be submitted to Brussels.

Don Curry, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, said it was time the government moved to seek some relaxation in the DBES rules.

"Day dedication is the first thing we need. It really would bring real benefits," said Mr Curry.

Clearance to export bone-in beef would also be a huge boost, especially for the Scottish beef industry. Mr Curry said it had developed an excellent reputation for bone-in beef around the world before the export ban was introduced in 1996. &#42