Government turns up heat over French beef ban

Bob Roberts
Tuesday 16 November 1999 01:00 GMT
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The Government was demanding the European Commission start legal action against the French beef ban, just hours before Agriculture Minister Nick Brown is set for a showdown with his French counterpart over the crisis.

The Government was demanding the European Commission start legal action against the French beef ban, just hours before Agriculture Minister Nick Brown is set for a showdown with his French counterpart over the crisis.

Mr Brown signalled he had lost patience with the French refusal to lift their ban on British beef and said unless there was a last minute breakthrough he wanted action from Brussels.

He said: "I shall be handing a formal note to the Commission on Monday morning for the Commission to consider formal infraction proceedings on Tuesday."

Infraction proceedings are where an EU country is taken to court for breaching treaty provisions.

Mr Brown said he would "specifically" be asking for the proceedings to be expedited quickly. "In other words for a short route to be taken to get an early resolution of this. I think the facts are pretty clear cut."

Although he did not specifically rule out a negotiated solution to the crisis when he meets French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany in Brussels today he said: "I said at the beginning we were only allowing a matter of days on this process.

"If there is not a clear way forward to the French lifting the ban then on Tuesday the Commission will have to consider infraction proceedings."

His comments came as optimism rose in South Africa that the beef ban would soon be lifted in that country.

Tony Blair held talks with South African president Thabo Mbeki during the Commonwealth Summit in Durban in a bid to persuade him to restore the trade, worth about £25 million a year to British farmers.

The Prime Minister told Sky News' Sunday with Adam Boulton: "British beef is still banned I am afraid and wrongly, still in many countries of the world.

"In South Africa it is still banned but in fact we have got a couple of teams of experts from South Africa and Britain who are working together to get it lifted here because this used to be a very big market for British beef."

In South Africa, sources in the Pretoria-based government have said privately they are optimistic that their country's import ban will be lifted but British officials travelling with Mr Blair are less hopeful that the trade could be swiftly resumed.

Meanwhile farmers' leaders were set to call on consumers to say "Non" to French wine on Beaujolais Nouveau day later this week.

The National Farmers' Union has instead declared the traditional welcome given to the first Beaujolais to arrive in Britain on November 18 as British Beef and Beer Day.

In defiance of France's decision to continue to ban British beef, despite a worldwide ban being lifted nearly four months ago, the NFU will encourage pubs and restaurants across Britain to serve up home-grown fare instead.

NFU president Ben Gill said: "If the French don't want our beef then we don't want their Beaujolais. Britain's farmers produce beef, barley and hops - in fact, all produce - to the highest standards in the world and we are proud of this fact."

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