Darling wants EU to scrap import tariffs

Chancellor Alistair Darling is to urge the European Union to tackle rising food prices by scrapping the import tariffs on agricultural commodities and abolishing the Common Agricultural Policy that keeps European agricultural prices above world market levels.

In a letter to fellow European treasury ministers before next month's European Council meetings, Mr Darling has called on the EU to play its part in reducing food inflation by extending the suspension of import tariffs on grain and reducing import tariffs that apply to other agricultural commodities. Such measures cost the EU 43bn each year and, argues Mr Darling, lead to higher prices for consumers.

With food price inflation running at 7% across the continent and the prices of commodities such as wheat rising 150% in the last two years, the Chancellor said the EU had a clear responsibility to address the consequences of spiralling food prices by tackling the causes.

"It is unacceptable that, at a time of significant food price inflation, the EU continues to apply very high import tariffs to many agricultural commodities," said Mr Darling.

He is proposing an ambitious international trade deal that will abolish the barriers and distortions in the global food market as part of an agenda to tackle the problem of rising food prices.

Included in his proposals are suggestions to abolish direct Common Agricultural Policy payments to farmers.

The controversial agricultural support scheme accounts for 32% of the entire EU budget, but has been resistant to reform for many years because of the influence of the farming industry.

Mr Darling also called for a close examination of the direct and indirect effects of EU biofuels policy, including a full assessment of its effect on food prices, now and in the future.