100,000 REASONS WHY TONY WAS RIGHT OVER THE BEEF WAR; Trade Fight with France Would Spell Disaster for Scottish Industry and Jobs

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), October 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

100,000 REASONS WHY TONY WAS RIGHT OVER THE BEEF WAR; Trade Fight with France Would Spell Disaster for Scottish Industry and Jobs


PREMIER Tony Blair has ordered British Ministers not to crow to their French counterparts over the victory in the beef war.

The Prime Minister wants a softly-softly approach from negotiators to prevent the row spilling over into a trade war which no-one would win - least of all Scotland.

Around 100,000 Scots jobs depend on our trade with France, our biggest export market.

We send nearly pounds 3 billion worth of goods there every year - pounds 600 worth for every man, woman and child living in Scotland.

A source close to Blair said: "The Prime Minister is determined to give the French every chance to come up with a face-saving acceptable solution.

"And he is confident that there is a growing will amongst the French government to climb down over their entrenched attitude towards British beef."

Mr Blair takes the beef battle so seriously that he has called a summit of senior Whitehall figures, beef exporters and farmers at Downing Street.

They will hammer out a strategy to boost British beef sales across the Channel.

Ministers have also agreed to push hard for compensation from France for the damage to the beef trade.

Last week's landmark ruling that Britain must compensate Spain for banning their boats from British waters will be studied carefully to see if it applies in the beef case.

EC food commissioner David Byrne will embark on fresh talks with the French, German and British farm ministers this weekend.

The Prime Minister is said to be anxious to avoid putting too much pressure on the French in a bid to avert a lengthy legal battle in the courts over the crisis.

French resistance is still evident.

On a visit to the Caribbean, French leader Lionel Jospin and Farm Minister Jean Glaveny showed no sign of being ready to lift their ban.

A report in left-wing newspaper Liberation yesterday quoted an expert as saying: "I hope the European committee have got it right - we'll know in 20 years."

At the same time, the right-wing Le Figaro said France must open up to British beef or be dragged before the European Court of Justice.

There are fears that the anti-French reaction of English tabloid newspapers and the boycotts of French goods by some British shoppers and supermarkets could spark a similar reaction from French consumers.

Exports of whisky and quality food such as meat and salmon would be devastated if the French mounted a campaign.

France is the largest market in the world for Scotch with 127 million bottles, worth pounds 210 million, going across the English Channel each year.

Demand for Scotch in France is so great that one in every eight bottles produced is sent there. Only one in 10 bottles is sold in the UK.

Any consumer boycott would clearly have a devastating effect and could quickly put jobs in the industry - which employs 12,000 people directly and another 48,000 indirectly in sectors such as farming and bottling - at risk.

In France, whisky sells for about pounds 7 a bottle - around pounds 4 less than you pay in the UK. It's seen as a trendy drink among the young, who like its flavour and sophisticated international image. Whisky and cola is one of the nation's most popular drinks.

Last night, Campbell Evans, spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "There are no winners in a trade conflict. We believe both governments should try to work out a solution to this quickly before it escalates. Hopefully, sense will prevail."

Another industry which would suffer is Scottish salmon. The French are voracious consumers of all types of the fish - smoked, fresh and frozen - because they see it as a quality food and are prepared to pay up to 15 per cent more for the Scottish product, which is sold under a quality brand mark.

Some 28,000 tons of the product were exported there last year - 47 per cent of all salmon exports - and accounted for the industry earnings of pounds 65 million. …

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