§ Mr. Nick Brown
I represented the UK at the Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels on 14 December, accompanied by Ross Finnie, Minister for Rural Affairs in the Scottish Executive.
The Council agreed to postpone for 12 months the introduction of compulsory labelling of beef in the light of evidence that the majority of member states would be unable to guarantee the integrity of such labels. Only France voted against. The precise legal form of the measure would depend upon the terms of the European Parliament's opinion on the Commission proposal, due to be delivered later in the week.
The Council also decided by QM (Portugal voting against) to defer for six months implementation of a 1997 Decision on Community-wide measures controlling Specified Risk Material pending agreement on a new Decision.
The Council agreed that adjustments to export refunds for processed agricultural products in order to meet budgetary and WTO limits should in future be governed by a strategic and targeted approach rather than via across the board cuts in refund rates. Officials were mandated to develop this strategy urgently with a view to adoption by March 2000 at the latest. I pointed out that in the medium term, the solution was to bring down CAP support prices. Meanwhile I endorsed the Council's proposed approach and expressed regret at the Commission's decisions to apply across the board refund cuts to date.
Commissioner Byrne updated the Council on developments in response to last summer's dioxin crisis and on the Commission's plans in relation to food safety. Commissioner Fischler reported on his participation in the recent WTO Ministerial meeting in Seattle and on new Commission proposals for reform of the CAP cotton regime.