Blair to urge end to S African beef ban

12 November 1999

Blair to urge end to S African beef ban

By FWi staff

TONY Blair is to appeal to South Africa to lift its ban on British beef , in a hope that this would persuade other countries to follow suit.

The London Evening Standard reports that the Prime Minister is expected to raise the issue with South Africas president Thabo Mbeki.

The pair will meet for talks during Mr Blairs three day visit to the Commonwealth Conference.

Before the BSE crisis South Africa was Britains biggest beef customer outside the EU. In 1995, the last full year before the ban was imposed, South Africa bought beef worth £24 million.

British and South African trade ministers have already discussed the matter, and South Africas agriculture minister, AT Didiza, is in Paris this week meeting Frances farms minister Jean Glavany.

While commentators say a South African decision to end its ban would carry little weight in Europe, it would have a big impact among the other 50-plus nations of the Commonwealth.

Just four are buying British beef: Cyprus, Gibraltar, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Falkland Islands.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has warned France to expect legal action next week unless it lifted the ban on British beef.

David Byrne, consumer affairs commissioner, said the “first steps of a legal procedure” against France would be taken if the embargo did not end.

A decision by France is not expected before Monday (15 November).

The possibility of legal action looked more likely after a day of apparently fruitless talks involving Romano Prodi, Commission president, and the prime ministers of Britain and France.

The signals emerging from the French camp were not good. Jacques Chirac, the French president, said after meeting with Prodi that “a positive solution” was only possible if a “number of guarantees” were offered.

Lionel Jospin, the French prime minister, spoke for half an hour to Tony Blair on the telephone. But all Mr Blairs press secretary would disclose is that the conversation was “perfectly friendly”.

Nick Brown, the agriculture secretary, is expected to make a last-ditch attempt to end the crisis on Monday, when he attends the European Union agriculture council meeting in Brussels.

He is likely to take the opportunity to hold talks with Mr Glavany.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said his union was also considering taking legal action against France.

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