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EU lukewarm on lowering farm subsidies

(Monday, Sept. 22, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Constant Brand, Associated Press, 09/21/03: TAORMINA, Sicily - European Union agriculture ministers vowed Sunday to revive world trade talks on opening markets for poorer countries, but were lukewarm about lowering farm subsidies.

The ministers from the 15 EU nations - and 10 countries joining the union in May - met at this seaside resort after World Trade Organization talks in Mexico collapsed last week over reducing farm subsidies and tariffs.

European Union Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said the ministers agreed the only way to help poorer countries was through the WTO.

"All the member states will stick to the priority of the multilateral approach," Fischler said.

Fischler said he would present his latest proposals for cuts in farm subsidies this Tuesday. Handouts now total $49 billion a year.

"The status quo is completely unsustainable," he said. Subsidies for olive oil, tobacco, cotton and sugar farmers could all be cut.

But several EU nations - France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal - are expected to fight the reforms.

Italian Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, was not convinced that deep cuts were needed.

He said he opposed ending support for tobacco farmers "because it seems to be that subsidies will be forbidden as a way to combat smoking."

The latest proposal follows a June overhaul in which EU farm ministers slashed incentives for beef and cereal producers and stopped paying subsidies based on how much is produced. Instead, EU farmers will receive an annual payment based on the size of their farms.

The EU had hoped the reforms would strengthen its hand at world trade talks and soften criticism of Europe's farm policy. Poorer countries, however, derided the reforms as continuing unfair trade barriers.

Alemanno said the EU ministers would meet with their Indonesian and Brazilian counterparts Monday to see if more compromise is possible.

"We have to explain our position better," he said. "We have to recast our proposals."

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44518-2003Sep21.html