EU to end banana import limits

EU to end banana import limits

The European Union, the world's biggest banana importer, will end the quotas it uses to protect former colonies and limit imports of the fruit from countries such as Ecuador, meeting the terms of an accord with the United States.

The 25-nation bloc plans to negotiate a single import tariff by 2006 to replace the quotas applied to its 3.4 million metric tons of annual banana imports, said the European Commission, the EU's Brussels-based executive body.

The changes are part of a 2001 agreement with the U.S. to end an eight-year World Trade Organization dispute over access to the EU's banana market. The U.S. lifted $191 million in retaliatory import duties in July 2001 after the EU agreed to scale back its preferences to former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific such as Cameroon and the Ivory Coast.

``What will change is the import regime, not the level of protection'' offered to the so-called ACP nations, European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said in a statement on the commission's Web site.

World banana exports may reach almost 15 million tons in 2010, up 28 percent from 2000, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

The FAO expects the easing of trade restrictions in the EU to boost exports by 5 percent in 2006.