U.S. Puts Squeeze on EU

Article excerpt

Although the United States says it's committed to the notion of free trade, the White House is pressuring the European Union with the threat of tariffs in a dispute over bananas.

The United States is threatening to slap 100 percent duties on dozens of products from the European Union, or EU, heating up a trade dispute over bananas.

The EU is refusing to comply with a 1997 ruling by the World Trade Organization that found that its banana-import rules violate international trade regulations. According to the Clinton administration, the EU favors bananas grown by former European colonies over those grown by U.S. companies. The union changed its rules last month, but the United States claims the alterations were cosmetic.

U.S. trade officials say they will announce Dec. 15 which products will actually face the tariffs. The duties will be imposed in February or March. The 15-nation EU, largest U.S. trading partner, vowed to complain to the World Trade Organization if the United States uses sanctions.

"It is time for Europe to meet its international obligations" U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told reporters after giving a speech to the President's Export Council, a trade advisory group, Nov. 10. "If Europe fails to comply with the WTO ruling, we will enforce our laws."

EU trade official Leon Brittan claims the banana-import rules comply with international agreements and that the threatened U.S. tariffs would violate WTO rules. He fears the United States will harm U.S. EU relations and aggravate the global economic crisis if it goes ahead with sanctions. "For the United States to take such unjustified action against the EU is a particularly grave error of political judgment at a time when we both need to give strong joint leadership in responding to the economic problems in the world," says Brittan.

The United States also has threatened to retaliate against the EU if it does not end its ban on imports of hormone-treated beef, which the United States insists is safe to eat. …