European farmers rally round their subsidies

18th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, Oct 18 (AFP) - European farmers demanded on Tuesday that the European Commission stay within its mandate during international negotiations to free up trade in agricultural products, reiterating a similar request by the French government last week.

STRASBOURG, Oct 18 (AFP) - European farmers demanded on Tuesday that the European Commission stay within its mandate during international negotiations to free up trade in agricultural products, reiterating a similar request by the French government last week.

Echoing fears expressed by a number of farmers here during a special meeting to discuss the talks, the head of French farmers' group CAF, Jean-Michel Lemetayer, said that the commission had to know "the limits not to go past", particularly on the issue of opening up the European market to imports.

Addressing the meeting, which brought together 650 members of agriculture groups from across the European region, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Pascal Lamy, was reassuring.

"My conviction is that European farmers have no reason to be on the defensive," Lamy said.

He said that the United States had accepted the principle of reducing their agricultural subsidies and that the EU had to demonstrate "greater flexibility" in return.

"With these negotiations you have the opportunity to win a double dividend," he said, because European farmers could benefit from agricultural reforms within the European Union and from reforms by other members of the WTO.

But anxieties within the farming community that the EU Commission might go too far in reducing support for its farmers were backed by the president of the agricultural commission in the European parliament, Joseph Daul.

Daul said that he had "the painful feeling that the EU is capitulating at the WTO".

He added: "It is time to tell the commission that it is in the process of crossing the red line."

The head of COGECA, the general confederation of agricultural co-operatives in the EU, Eduardo Baamonde, called on the commission to "defend European farmers with vigour and strategic ability" and not to make concessions at any price.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, who represents the European Union at trade negotiations, proposed last week during WTO negotiations in Geneva that the EU would be prepared to reduce its agricultural subsidies by 70 percent and its duties on farm goods by as much as 60 percent.

Sources have since told AFP that the EU has revised down its offer on duties and is now considering a 50 percent reduction.

The offer came as the United States also proposed making deep cuts in its official assistance to farmers, but Mandelson was rebuked by the French government for having gone too far without consulting the EU's 25 member states.

EU foreign ministers were also meeting in Strasbourg on Monday at a special meeting called by France. They have been joined by about 650 members of agricultural bodies from across the EU and neighbouring countries.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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