EU will up Egyptian imports if E. coli dispute ends: official

Bassem Abo Alabass, Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

The EU's south Mediterranean representative, Bernardino León, weighs in on seeds, Syria and global debts during a visit to Cairo

Bernardino Leon
Bernardino Leon (Photo: Reuters)

The European Union will resume imports and increase orders for Egyptian produce if it finds a solution to the current dispute over alleged E. coli infection, an EU official has said.

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference held at the headquarters of the Delegation of the European Union to Egypt, Bernardino León, the EU's special representative for the southern Mediterranean region, said: 

"I am Spanish and my country was also accused of being the source of the E. coli epidemic so I identify with the anger of Egyptians against the charges."            

León explained that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was responsible for the decision to freeze the import of Egyptian seeds to EU's countries and it was now difficult to cancel the ban.

"We will discuss the problem again when the EU's delegation arrives to Egypt in the upcoming days," he promised.

According to León, if the crisis is resolved then the EU would not only reopen its market to Egyptian produce but also increase its orders to offset the damages felt by Egypt's farmers and exporters. 

"Egypt is one of our most important markets, we should keep it," León said.  

The Agriculture Export Council organised a vigil on Tuesday in front of the EU delegation's headquarters in protest at the the union's ban on Egyptian seed and vegetable exports, which is set to last until 31 October due to suspicion that they may contain E. coli bacteria.

US debt woes

León also tackled questions on the US debt crisis, trouble in the eurozone and the union's plans to overcome them.

"We are living in a global, complicated moment because the whole world is suffering from the US debt crisis," said León, in answer to a question from Ahram Online. "We hope Middle East stocks calm down ... they are out of control right now."

León added that the EU is planning a firm, disciplined response to the situation to speed the way to renewed economic stability.

"Arab countries are far from seeing a repeat of the scenario of the 2008 financial crisis," he said.

S&P cut the US's long-term credit rating to AA-plus last Friday, a move which is likely to raise borrowing costs for the American government, companies and consumers.

It came just hours after European institutions, alarmed by the eurozone debt crisis, forced Italy to speed up its austerity drive.

Regional bloodshed

The EU's representative also condemned the present crackdown on protesters in Syria.

"It is unacceptable especially with these violent actions which are committed by the government," said León, but seemed to suggest a shift in approach from Syria's embattled president could mean trade activities would be revived.

"It is impossible for Syria to continue business with EU as usual and I think, it will be ok if the government runs the democratic process," he told attendees. 

León was named EU special representative for the southern Mediterranean region by the Union's foreign affairs ministers on 18 July.

A Spanish diplomat of more than 20 years' experience, he has spent most of his career in the Arab world, starting in Libya and Algeria before becoming an EU advisor on the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Between 2004 and 2008, León was Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In 2008, he was appointed Secretary-General at the Spanish Prime Minister's Office, acting as main foreign policy advisor to the country's Prime Minister. 

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