The food sector blotted an otherwise positive copybook report on open markets and liberalisation in the European Union, released recently by the World Trade Organisation.

The report concluded: "Pursuing trade liberalisation through multilateral, regional and bilateral initiatives, the European Union has maintained its markets largely open, except for textiles and agriculture." It added: "The simple average tariff on agricultural products is, at 16.1%, about four times higher than that on non-agricultural products, with above average tariffs on products subject to the Common Agricultural Policy. Tariff escalation remains, in particular on processed products."

It cites OECD figures saying that producer support cuts from €107.6bn (US$106.2bn) in 1999 to €97.9bn in 2000 were "mainly due to world market prices rising faster than domestic prices, as well as currency movements, rather than significant changes in policy."

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent