EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler has signalled that the European Union is prepared to agree to lower its food production subsidies below that agreed in last year's Agenda 2000 package. The EU Council of Ministers has accepted a negotiating position proposed by the European Commission, which is representing the EU at the current round on agricultural products at the WTO.

It says that the EU "is committed to further reducing farm support and protection." However, this concession would be dependent on the EU being allowed to continue making payments related to production levels, which are due to be phased out under WTO rules in the year 2003 - the so called blue box subsidies.

Brussels will also press for governments to be allowed to subsidise work to improve farm animal welfare.

By Keith Nuthall