MOZZARELLA and manchego were on the menu of a bilateral meeting between Italy and Spain in Ibiza yesterday as the two countries pledged to protect the Mediterranean diet from more open global trade.

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, his Italian counterpart Romano Prodi and ministers from both countries discussed not only the Mediterranean diet but also immigration and the future of Europe at yesterday's summit meeting.

As the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks restarts, France has already insisted that the European Union should not give away any more ground in the politically-sensitive area of farming.

Italy and Spain said they were the two European countries with most foods stamped with labels like DOC and PGI, which prevent other places using the names of hams, wines and even nougat that have often centuries-old traditions at home.

While they said they hoped for a new WTO deal, they added that changes the EU had offered to make to its agricultural policy should be recognised and matched by other trade partners.

WTO countries agreed last month to restart the Doha round, which was suspended last year mainly over differences over agriculture. Last week, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Europe and the United States were talking about the farm trade part of the round. Negotiations include the possibility of Brussels cutting protective tariffs further and Washington knocking more off its farm subsidies. “Tariff reductions in any eventual agreement could particularly hit EU products with a low level of protection, which could cause irreparable damage to sectors of Mediterranean agriculture if we do not keep other ways of protecting them,” Spain and Italy said. The two countries' agriculture ministers said they would join forces in the EU and WTO to fight for market access barriers to protect Mediterranean products. “The Mediterranean diet is a model of quality -- it is rich, varied, balanced, healthy and delicious,” they said. “It also forms a historic part of our way of life.” After the meeting, both Zapatero and Prodi said that Spain and Italy would keep their more than 3'000 troops in the south of the Lebanon, to prevent a resurgence of violence. Zapatero said that the military effort should be accompanied by a “political effort” to develop the peace process.

As to immigration, the two leaders favoured reinforcing border vigilance through Frontex, and said it was necessary to increase bilateral cooperation in immigration and try to improve conditions in the countries of origin of the immigrants.

They said that they did not discuss any possible agreement between Telefónica and Telecom Italia.


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