France to review ban on British beef after Blair challenges Chirac

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The Independent Online

Jacques Chirac, the French President, announced yesterday that the country was to review its ban on imports of British beef.

Speaking after a Downing Street dinner, he said the French food agency, AFSA, would reassess the embargo by the end of next week.

Tony Blair challenged the President to reconsider the ban, which was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice six months ago.

The breakthrough came at a working dinner between the two leaders at the Elysée Palace, Paris, to prepare for the European Union summit beginning in Seville tomorrow.

Mr Blair appeared to give a neutral response to the review, only repeating what President Chirac had said.

Earlier, the Prime Minister told the Commons that British beef was "the safest and finest quality anywhere in the world".

He said: "There is a new government in place. We very much hope they will come into line with their legal obligations. We have to make sure that if the French government won't change their position, the European Commission will take the infringement action necessary."

He said the incidence of BSE in the UK had fallen dramatically, while the incidence of BSE in France had been rising. "There is no reason whatever for this ban to remain– no reason in science, no reason in common sense, no reason in law."

Britain will still be cautious over the chances of the ban being lifted immediately because AFSA is known to be highly independent of the French government.