At its ministerial meeting on Monday, EU foreign and trade ministers backed the strategy of Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy for a draft World Trade Organisation (WTO) deal, but called for the accord to take more account of EU interests.

Lamy had been under particular pressure from France, which fears too many concessions over the EU's 40bn euro ($48.6) farm support budget, of which it is the biggest beneficiary.

"We now have a very strong and clear mandate with a lot of political energy, which is what we need," Lamy said.

"We now have a very strong and clear mandate with a lot of political energy, which is what we need"

Pascal Lamy,
EU trade commissioner

The ministers' final statement gave him broad backing to seek a "balanced framework", but omitted more precise wording on how Lamy should conduct agricultural negotiations.

The central theme of the WTO talks is the politically sensitive issue of making agricultural markets fairer as well as reducing trade barriers to industrial goods and services.

The EU has offered to reduce domestic farm support and end export subsidies, but it wants to protect farmers who produce products deemed sensitive, such as dairy goods and beef.

Lamy said the US had to reduce or limit its export aid and reform its $51.7bn six-year farm bill, estimated to boost US crop and dairy subsidies by 67%.

France has strongly opposed Lamy's offer in WTO talks to end agricultural export assistance if other countries such as the US make similar efforts over subsidies.