The European Commission has said it has notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of the intended level of duty in its new tariff-only system for the EU’s banana import regime.

The Commission has proposed a new tariff of €230 (US$299.3) per tonne for most favoured nation (MFN) suppliers, mostly in Latin America, and is intended to replace the present regime, which is based on tariff quotas, from 1 January 2006. Hence, producers in Latin America would no longer be limited by quotas, but would pay a higher tariff than the current in-quota €75 per tonne.

The EU was ordered by the WTO to scrap its tariff quota system, which gave favourable market access to smaller producers in former European colonies in the Caribbean and Africa. Under the new regime the Commission said it will maintain a preference for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, a move that is likely to anger larger producers in Latin America.

The Commission said the new proposed duty preserves the current level of market access for WTO members exporting bananas to the EU under the WTO’s most favoured nation conditions.

The Commission also said it intends to intensify its dialogue with these countries in a “positive and constructive manner”. It stressed that the notification is an “unavoidable procedural step that does not preclude constructive engagement with the exporting countries”.

“The EU banana import regime is changing but the level of protection is not increasing. The proposed new tariff is based on a methodology to calculate tariff equivalents enshrined in the WTO texts and on objective data. I believe this figure and methodology has allowed us to square the circle and safeguard the sometimes conflicting interests of our consumers, producers and trading partners,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, EU commissioner for agriculture.