Blair will chose his moment at rugby final to tackle Jospin over beef issue

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The Independent Online
AS THEY enjoy the Rugby World Cup tomorrow in Wales, Tony Blair plans to tackle the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, and the President, Jacques Chirac, over the French ban on British beef.

The two French leaders will be at the new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the final between France and Australia after the European nation's stunning victory over the All Blacks.

They may wish to focus on the protection of Gallic pride on the field of play, but Downing Street signalled yesterday that Mr Blair, who is not known for his love of rugby, will be raising the difficult subject of the French ban on British beef exports. Mr Blair will be urging his VIP visitors to avoid the embarrassing and lengthy process of action through the European courts.

The Government is determined to keep the French government on side in spite of the reports that Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, had made a humiliating retreat this week just when Britain had won European Commission support for its beef exports.

Mr Brown caused consternation in the British press after agreeing to talks with the French about the safety of British beef, which followed the European scientific committee dismissing French objections. Mr Blair yesterday backed Mr Brown at a meeting of the Cabinet for taking a conciliatory approach.

Officials from the two governments will hold talks today on five key issues governing Britain's anti-BSE health and safety controls surrounding beef production. Among the concessions, Mr Blair is ready to back the British labelling of beef sold in France which he believes could play to the advantage of British exporters.

He may also say to his French guests that the British Government is hoping to reassure Continental consumers by lifting Britain's ban on beef on the bone. Cabinet sources said they expect the ban to be lifted by the end of the month. "We are waiting for one more technical report," said the source. "Then we hope to get the ban lifted."

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Liam Donaldson, recommended lifting the ban but the CMO for Wales has cautioned against it. The Government is seeking independent academic approval before going ahead.

tExports of British meat and bonemeal for use in cattle feed continued for nine years to non-European Union countries after links between BSE and the foodstuff were uncovered, a public inquiry said yesterday.