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Stackyard News May 08

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WTO Concerns for Rural Scotland Remain

NFU Scotland has re-emphasised the danger for the quality food and farming industry in Scotland if agricultural trade reform proposals expose the country to cheaper imports produced to lower standards.


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Significant doubts remain as to whether any World Trade Organisation deal can be brokered this year, given repeated failures since 2001. However, despite this, NFUS remains concerned that any deal which fails to recognise standards of food production could have horrendous consequences for Scotland and the rest of the EU.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson gave evidence in the European Parliament on Tuesday and stressed that the Commission is not prepared to do a deal on agriculture at any cost. However, the latest proposals, which would expose Europe and its farmers to cheap imports of lower standard produce, have not allayed fears. Proposals for tariff cuts could lead to major reductions in farm income and food production in Europe.

NFUS understands that whilst firmer, albeit contentious, proposals on an agricultural agreement have emerged, there remain real problems in progressing proposals in other trade areas. Most notably, terms of a deal on so-called NAMA products, which represent industrial, fuel, mining, fishing and forestry products and account for 90% of the world’s merchandise exports, are at a much less advanced stage. This all raises severe doubts over the possibility of a deal this year.

NFUS Chief Executive James Withers said:

“We have heard some warm words this week from Mr Mandelson about not selling out farming, but the proposals on the table are doing little to calm the concerns of farming organisations across Europe. We have to strike a balance between free trade and fair trade and there is a real danger that a deal of the kind being discussed could penalise the very producers that have striven to raise their production standards. They would have the rug pulled from under them as cheap imports undermine their good work.

“I have real doubts that a deal will be reached this year and it is clear that whilst agriculture has been fingered as the stumbling block in the past, there are other areas of a trade agreement that are not even close to a final phase of negotiation. However, whatever cynicism we have over the likelihood of a deal, we cannot afford to ignore the threats posed by a bad deal and the latest plans have not changed significantly from those on the table prior to the recent Geneva discussions.

“This latest round of WTO horse-trading is happening at a time of massive food security concerns. This is a global problem which risks being exacerbated if the European Commission does not recognise the issues as part of its discussions on a new agricultural trade deal.”

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