16 November 2001
WTO talks ‘to affect farm structure’

By Alistair Driver

NEW rounds of talks on reforming world trade rules could affect the structure of UK farming, says the Meat and Livestock Commission.

World Trade Organisation talks affecting UK farmers are taking place on farm subsidies, import and export tariffs and welfare and food safety rules.

MLC senior economic analyst Joanne Knowles said European politicians would battle to keep farm subsidy payments linked to farm size.

The European Union is by far the biggest user of these schemes, which come under the “blue box” category in WTO terminology, she said.

“A lot of countries that do not use them, led by those in the Cairns and US trading groups, want to get rid of blue box subsidies,” she said.

“They argue that these subsidies distort trade.”

The outcome of the talks could be crucial to the debate raging within the UK and the EU about reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The WTO wants to reduce import tariffs and quotas, and export subsidies, to reduce protectionism and liberate world trade.

Proposals on food safety and animal welfare will also be discussed.

Ms Knowles said the spread of BSE, the dioxin scare in Belgium and the foot-and-mouth outbreak had focused attention on protecting consumers.

“There will be discussions on how to protect consumers, while avoiding protectionism in disguise, such as the French ban on British beef.”

The possibility of compensating farmers who bear the extra costs of good animal welfare will also be discussed.

The MLC has launched a publication to coincide with the talks to keep people involved in the meat industry up to date with developments.

Delivered mainly by email and fax, it will provide summaries of WTO negotiations that affect the meat industry.

The MLC is charging 95+VAT a year for the service.

It claims this is value for people who lack the time to trawl through the information coming out of the talks that could last a number of years.

The Uruguay round of talks lasted from 1986 to 1994.