The European Commission has unveiled imminent plans to abolish the European Union system of pre-financing export refunds for food, a complex subsidy that has been criticised by the EU financial watchdog, the Court of Auditors.

Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said that the system would be replaced with direct controls on beef exports, which the refund pre-financing has encouraged in the past. She told EU ministers that this role was less important now the EU was a net importer of beef.

Pre-financed refunds for cereal exports have been the other main use.

Fischer Boel said there would probably be a six-month phase-out period.