EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has been given authority by the full European Commission to draw up a final import regime package, which would grant the world’s poorest 48 countries the right to sell their products in the EU both duty free and with no quota restrictions.

The plan has been held up over concerns about the loss of tax revenue and as a result, Lamy’s final plan is expected to include proposals to liberalise tariffs and quotas for bananas between 2002-6 and for sugar and rice between 2006-8. It will need approval from the EU Council of Ministers to go into affect and is being framed independently of the current WTO round on agriculture.

The 48 least developed countries account for 0.4% of total world trade, and only 1% of EU imports. Temporary measures are being considered by the Commission to provide effective market access for sugar and rice from least developed countries before the formal liberalisation process kicks in.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent