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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 07:23 GMT 08:23 UK

Business: The Economy

Breakthrough in euro chocolate war

British chocolate contains other vegetable fats

The British chocolate industry is looking forward to opening up a vast new market for its products, after the end of a 25-year wrangle over exports to the European Union.

EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels on Wednesday cleared the final obstacles to a deal which will allow the milk chocolate favoured in the UK and Ireland to be marketed in all 15 member states.

If the European Parliament approves the deal, high milk content chocolate bars with a vegetable fat content of up to 5% will be cleared for sale on the continent - as long as they are called "Family Milk Chocolate".

The row dates back to when Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the EU in 1973 and were each granted an exemption from an EU ban on making chocolate from anything other than cocoa butter.

Sweet UK-style milk chocolate has always been considered inferior on the continent, and eight EU countries only recognise chocolate made purely with cocoa butter as the real thing.

They effectively block imports on the grounds that the UK product is not "real" chocolate.

Opposition melts

After last night's agreement, an updated directive will oblige all EU countries to accept all chocolate, as long as the vegetable fat content does not exceed 5% of the finished product and is clearly set out on the label.

Meanwhile, British milk chocolate can continue to be called "milk chocolate" on the home market, but will have to be labelled "family milk chocolate" if exported to the rest of the EU.

The arrangement has been accepted by the UK industry, anxious to widen a chocolate confectionary market which was worth £3.66bn in Britain alone last year.

Wednesday's breakthrough involved settlement of a dispute between some EU governments and the Commission over who has power to make future changes to the directive on flavourings and chocolate fillings.

Belgium, traditional European home of chocolate and a staunch opponent of anything less than the pure cocoa-butter product, still intends opposing the new deal.

But even with Dutch support and the abstention of Luxembourg, a qualified majority will push it through later this year.

The Department of Trade said the deal would allow "all the different chocolate-making traditions in the EU to coexist in a harmonised market".

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