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'French have to lift their beef ban now'.

Byline: Andrew Forgrave

WELSH farmers will step up their demands for compensation and fines after France was found guilty of breaching EU law by refusing to import British beef.

The French Government could face heavy financial penalties if it continues its beef embargo but last night it was becoming clear there would be no immediate lifting of the ban.

French agriculture minister Jean Glavany, in Brussels for EU talks on the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis, made it clear that he would need time to study the judgment before the French government decided what to do next.

Peredur Hughes, president-elect of NFU Cymru, said the French should be "under no illusion" that it must lift its unilateral embargo immediately.

He added: "The Government must do everything in its power to help rebuild the trading links that have been destroyed or obstructed by its legal action.

"The losses caused by this unjustified action have been heavy for Wales' farming and food industries. The reparation must start today."

The verdict from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg confirmed that European rules take precedence over national laws, and it ends a bitter Anglo-French wrangle in the wake of the crisis over mad cow disease.

The judges confirmed that EU governments are bound to implement legally binding agreements between member states - in this case to resume British beef exports after the trade blockade imposed to prevent the spread of BSE.

NFU Cymru hopes the court ruling would strengthen a separate legal action the union is pursuing against France. The case is still progressing through the French supreme Court.

Plaid Cymru MEP Eurig Wyn said the court's decision was "great news for Welsh farmers".

Speaking from Strasbourg, Mr Wyn, who sits on the EU's Agriculture Committee, said: "This has been one of the most flagrant legal breaches in the history of the European Union.

"We must put pressure on the French government to lift its embargo immediately. Any delay should be countered by highly punitive fines."

France had argued its own scientific advice suggested there were still risks of BSE in British beef exports and insisted its own health and safety findings must come first.

But during the court case, the French were accused of "a brazen, flagrant and utterly unjustified" refusal to comply with the EU accord.

British beef is only exported deboned under strict safety conditions, which scientists say is as safe as any other beef in Europe.

The European Court ordered the costs in the case be shared, with twothirds paid by France, and one-third by the Commission.

UP to 70 carcasses have been entered in this year's Best Beef Competition to be held in a North Wales meat processing plant tonight.

Prizes totalling more than pounds 2,000 are on offer at Caernarfon's Cwmni Cig Arfon plant, as up to 40 Welsh beef producers prepare their stock for their only opportunity this year to compete.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 14, 2001
Words:485
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