The European Commission is sticking to its guns in a bid to persuade EU ministers to give enough ground to end the long running trade dispute with the USA and Latin American states over Caribbean bananas.

Following a review of its strategy, Brussels has returned to its earlier position, of a temporary system of quotas that would give some protection to Caribbean exporters, which are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis.

This had been rejected by EU Member States, but in a Communication to the Council of Ministers, the Commission has claimed that the alternative – basing the award of quotas on previous trade patterns – had proved to be impossible to agree in debates at the World Trade Organisation.

As a result, Brussels has restated its earlier preference for first-come-first-served quotas, with a move by the year 2006 to a tariff only system, that would give little protection to Caribbean banana exporters competing against the extensive plantations in south and central America.

Releasing the Communication, agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler said: “The Commission has delivered what the Member States asked for. A workable, WTO compatible system. ‘First-come-first-served’ is the key to putting an end to a dispute which has already gone on for too long.”

By Keith Nuthall