Richard North, 04/07/2005  

It isn't only Blair who is playing fast and loose with the CAP, it seems. After his declaration last week that he wanted to see all farming subsidies abolished, now, according to The Times Bush is willing to abolish US farming subsidies as well – but only if the EU reciprocates.

Bush's challenge, which came in an interview with Trevor McDonald screened by ITV last night, was in response to a direct question. When asked if America would drop its subsidy system if the EU abandoned the CAP, Bush said: "Absolutely. And I think we have an obligation to work together to do that."

Of course, this challenge does not have even the slightest chance of being met, as it is certain to be rejected not only by France and Germany, but by many in the US, where farmers are equally wedded to their subsidies. But, as a negotiating ploy it is superb as it completely wrong-foots the EU, especially as – like Blair – Bush has linked it to the quest to alleviate poverty in Africa.

Needless to say, a senior source close to the British G8 negotiating team last night welcomed Bush's comments, saying he had delivered a "major challenge to the European Union". He added: "Mr Bush has just upped the pressure. The seeds are there of a potential breakthrough."

That latter statement is, on the face of it, wildly optimistic, but it is more probably part of the game-playing rhetoric which will, no doubt, have Chirac fuming. Expect a strident response in the near future. Suddenly, the G8 summit looks like being fun.

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