Disproportionate response

Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p13 (editorial)
Publication Date 15/03/2001
Content Type

Date: 15/03/01

THE arrival of foot-and-mouth disease on the mainland of Europe is understandably causing panic in the agricultural heartlands. Farmers on this side of the Channel are only too aware of the devastation it has caused in the UK, where more than 200 cases have been confirmed in the past three weeks.

But, so far, the outbreak has been confined to the UK and the Mayenne area of northwestern France.

The reaction of those countries that have imposed sweeping bans on all EU agricultural products appears premature and, in the words of Health Commissioner David Byrne, "excessive and unnecessary".

There certainly seems to be precious little scientific evidence to support those countries such as Morocco which have decided to extend import bans to cereal crops. Their actions smack of protectionism.

The same accusation might be levelled at the United States. The decision of its new Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman (who is profiled opposite) to suspend imports of EU meat and dairy products appears to be in breach of the regionalisation principle that restricts trade embargoes to directly-affected areas. Ms Veneman recently promised to pursue an "aggressive trade policy". She is certainly doing that.

The European Union and US need another trade dispute right now like a hole in the head. Commission officials have already got their work cut out dealing with long-running battles over aircraft-noise reduction devices, banana import quotas, tax breaks to multinational corporations and restrictions on hormone-treated beef.

But the latest dispute could easily dwarf all of those if matters are allowed to escalate. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and his counterparts in health and agriculture will need all their diplomatic skills and experience to ensure that does not happen.

In the meantime, if they need some tips on the right approach to take they could do worse than attend a timely European Voice-sponsored conference in Brussels this Tuesday (20 March) on that most crucial of topics: EU-US relations.

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