French farmers feel threatened by new WTO deal

20th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 20 (AFP) - EU commitments made at a WTO meeting in Hong Kong over the weekend risk compounding the problem of falling farm incomes, French agriculture groups fear, as statistics showed a decline in farming revenues across the European Union in 2005.

PARIS, Dec 20 (AFP) - EU commitments made at a WTO meeting in Hong Kong over the weekend risk compounding the problem of falling farm incomes, French agriculture groups fear, as statistics showed a decline in farming revenues across the European Union in 2005.

The EU, in the face of pressure from developing nations, has agreed to phase out its export subsidies for farmers by 2013. These subsidies encourage European farmers to sell their produce on international markets and are frequently attacked by "fair trade" campaigners.

The chairman of French milk association FNPL, Henri Brichart, was critical of the agreement.

"The deal agreed in Hong Kong is a bad hit for European agriculture even if the worst has been avoided in pushing back until 2013 the end of export subsidies for certain agricultural products," he said.

Separately, data from European statistics office Eurostat showed that farmers' revenues, excluding their income from non-farming activities, had fallen by 6.3 percent in 2005 across the 25-member European bloc.

Farming income in France fell by 10.1 percent, in Spain by 12.0 percent and in Italy by 9.6 percent.

Seeking to extract advantages from other EU member states, French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde, in an interview published on Tuesday, sought to portray the agreement to phase out export subsidies as a concession by France.

"It is out of the question that our partners in the (European) union pocket our concessions without giving us something in return," she said.

France received more than 21 percent of all EU export subsidies in 2003, according to a study published by French university Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris on Monday.

There were also fears that the deal to eliminate export subsidies was the first step on a slippery slope.

Farming groups are worried that EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson will make further concessions on market access by offering to slash customs duties protecting EU farmers, allowing food-exporting countries like Brazil to attack the European market.

"The problem of market access in Europe is ten times more important that export subsidies," said an economist and director of FNPL, Frederic Chausson.

As part of the WTO talks, Mandelson has already offered to reduce customs duties by 35-60 percent, more than an initial offer of 20-50 percent.

The head of French beef association FNB, Pierre Chevalier, fears that French agriculture groups have run out of bargaining chips.

Part of the EU's strategy at the WTO talks was to exchange market access in agriculture for improved access to the industrial and service markets of developing countries.

"I am pessimistic," said Chevalier, who fears that beef imports could increase to 1.3 million tonnes per year from the current level of 400,00-500,000 tonnes. "There is everything to do in the next three months to avoid another big disappointment."

For François Lucas, the head of French farming group Coordination Rurale, "by the middle of the next decade, there will be only 200,000-300,000 farms in France compared with 600,000 now."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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