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EU Farm Ministers Agree to Agricultural Reforms


European Union farm ministers have agreed to agricultural reforms that include cuts in some subsidies and shifting more money into rural development. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports the measures have angered some European farmers with other critics saying they will hurt farmers in developing countries.

The agreement reached Thursday after all-night negotiations between European agricultural ministers would cut subsidies in some agricultural production - like tobacco - and shift funding to environmental protection and rural development projects. It would also slightly increase milk quotas each year, before liberalizing the market in 2015.

The changes aim to make European farmers more competitive by breaking the link between how much they produce and the amount of subsidies they receive - and to help make agriculture more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

French agricultural minister Michel Barnier, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, said the agreement gave European farmers more protection and offered more balance in government support to different types of farmers.

But the agreement has angered others. Thousands of tobacco farmers and farm workers protested in Brussels this week.

Gerard Choplin, spokesman for the European Farmers Coordination Via Campesina - a group representing small farmers world wide - said the changes to what is known as the EU's Common Agricultural Policy or CAP does not help family farmers either in Europe or in developing countries.

"The problem is that the European Union did not take a real decision to make policies and subsidies in Europe fairer. They just cut a little bit the subsidies for big farms...The problem is this CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], with this very unfair distribution, lacks legitimacy," he said.

Choplin argued the changes also do not deal with complaints by developing countries that subsidized European agricultural products are undercutting their own production. For example, he said, increasing quotas on European milk production will mean that a surplus of cheap European milk will be exported to poorer countries hurting dairy farmers there.

But some EU agricultural ministers praised the reforms although they said they did not go far enough.

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