NEWS

Tentative deal on cotton subsidies

The government gained a brief breather yesterday in its dispute with cotton farmers over crop subsidies by promising to step up inspections on production, a move which could eventually lead to higher prices. Following a meeting with representatives of farmers’ unions from Thessaly – Greece’s top cotton-growing region – as well as local MPs and regional officials, Agricultural Development and Food Minister Evangelos Bassiakos said an initial agreement had been thrashed out. However, the minister ruled out compliance with the farmers’ basic demand, which is for the government to buy up an extra 50,000 tons of produce using subsidies from the European Union’s Agricultural Fund. Greece has already met its EU quota of 1.13 million tons of cotton for 2004. «[Such use of subsidies] would be illegal and would lead to high fines from the European Union, which the economy is in no position to support,» Bassiakos said after the meeting. Thessaly farmers, who have threatened to mount a campaign of roadblocks on major highways – a form of protest they have resorted to many times in the past, causing mayhem but failing to win any substantial concessions – are to meet tomorrow to discuss their future action. Bassiakos’s main offer was to increase inspections on the cotton production figures submitted so far, in the hope of weeding out fraudulent claims and thus increasing the crop eligible for subsidies. «I am certain this effort will bear fruit,» he said.