Fresh hopes of lifting beef ban in Berlin and Paris as Germans join latest talks

GERMAN OFFICIALS unexpectedly joined their British and French counterparts for talks over British beef yesterday, in a new sign that the latest negotiations could pave the way to a lifting of the ban by Berlin as well as Paris.

The officials talked for nearly seven hours in Brussels but refused to comment on the outcome, saying they would be reporting back to their governments.

The European Commission said the atmosphere had been "good and constructive" and that information which was provided by Britain had been "clear, precise and informative".

An envoy from the German agriculture ministry sat in on the discussions, involving five British civil servants, 10 from France and a further 10 from the European Commission.

With at least seven of the 16 German regional governments threatening to vote against the removal of the embargo, there is concern that Germany may have difficulty getting the necessary legislation through the Bundesrat, or upper house.

Germany's deputy health minister, Erwin Jordan, yesterday led a meeting of regional and federal officials called to discuss how to proceed, following the decision by European scientists to declare British beef safe. He will report back to the federal government which will use his report in discussions with the regions.

The British delegation at the latest meeting was lead by Richard Carden, a top official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and a representative from the Scottish executive.

The meeting, described as "a useful working meeting with a good atmosphere", cov three areas on which the European Commission says it will not move - the traceability of cattle, the controls for slaughtering and the safety rules covering meat products.

There was expected to be more scope for changes in two other spheres: better labelling and testing.

The European Commissioner for consumer affairs, David Byrne has set a deadline of November 16 for a resolution of the beef problem, implying that France will face legal action if there is no decision to lift the ban by then.

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