The meeting follows Brussels’ latest proposal of a E187/tonne tariff for Most Favoured Nation (MFN) suppliers from January 1.
An “equivalent level of preference” zero-duty tariff quota of 775,000 tonnes for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) suppliers is also offered.
Last month the WTO rejected EU plans to triple the import duty on MFNs from E75 to E230 on the basis Latin American producers would be unable to compete in the EU.
Although exempt from tariffs
under the proposals, Caribbean producers believe that the removal of quotas for MFNs will mean a saturated market and plummeting quality and prices.
“In the first place the E230 per tonne was too low to protect Caribbean bananas,” said Association of Caribbean Farmers (WINFA) coordinator Renwick Rose. “The proposal can only lead to a folding of the market as it did 10 years ago, driving down prices, ruining farmers in the Caribbean and causing massive lay-off of workers in Latin America.”
Producers from the Windward Islands, high commissioners for St Vincent & The Grenadines and St Lucia, and support groups including Banana Link and the Fairtrade Foundation attended last week’s meeting.
WINFA wants the present tariff rate quota system maintained for a fixed period until “a sustainable, long-term solution acceptable to all” is negotiated.
Peter Mandelson, EU commissioner for trade, said: “We have been careful to ensure that preferential access for our ACP partners is maintained. We hope that we are one step closer to resolving this issue.”