EU trade offer ‘could lead to huge job losses’

Job losses on a massive scale and a decrease in self-sufficiency are the obvious consequences of the EU’s recent proposals to the World Trade Organisation, meat traders claimed this week.

Increased market access to the likes of Brazil and Australia was the greatest threat to the livestock and meat sector, according to the European Meat Platform – a lobby group representing various links in the meat chain.

The danger was that, by lowering import tariffs by 60%, as trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has offered for the most protected products, the EU market will be swamped by cheap imports.

“European farmers and meat producers cannot reduce their production costs as much as competitors abroad who do not have to meet all our high productions standards,” said a spokesman.

These standards, on things like food safety, traceability and environmental sustainability, added an estimated 10bn (6.8bn) to EU meat production costs.

The consequence of such tariff cuts would be a dramatic fall in prices, a drop in meat production and the loss of up to 600,000 jobs, the European Meat Platform claimed.

Farmers, feed manufacturers, traders and slaughterers would all be affected.

But the EU Commission had so far failed to win anything in return in the area of services and industrial goods.

Instead, the proposal posed a threat to food dependency and food security, especially as imports would increase from parts of the world where avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease are prevalent.

The European Meat Platform’s claims came in a week when the EU Commission admitted that the next WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December was likely to fall well short of expectations.

Originally it was intended that full “modalities” would be agreed in Hong Kong, spelling out the actual level of cuts in tariffs, export subsidies and trade distorting supports, plus the timeframe.

But Mr Mandelson told EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday (21 November) that spring 2006 was a more realistic deadline.

He also confirmed that, despite pressure from many parties to offer more on agriculture, he would not be making any new offers ahead of Hong Kong.

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