U.S. Puts the Squeeze on EU: Threatens 100% Tariffs If Bananas Aren't Accepted

Article excerpt

The United States threatened yesterday to slap 100 percent duties on wine, bread, suitcases and dozens of other products from the European Union, heating up a trade dispute over bananas.

The 15-nation EU, the United States' largest trading partner, vowed to complain to the World Trade Organization if the United States uses sanctions.

U.S. trade officials said they will announce Dec. 15 which of the products targeted yesterday will actually face the tariffs. The duties will be imposed in February or March.

The Clinton administration said the EU is refusing to comply with a 1997 ruling by the World Trade Organization that found that the EU's banana-import rules violate international trade regulations.

The United States says the EU favors bananas grown by former European colonies over those grown by U.S. companies. The EU changed the rules last month, but the United States said those changes were cosmetic.

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

EU trade official Leon Brittan said the EU's banana-import rules comply with international agreements and that the threatened U.S. tariffs would violate WTO rules. He said 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," Mr. Brittan said.

Mrs. Barshefsky said she remains hopeful that the two sides can settle the dispute.

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. But the United States has not announced any possible sanctions over the beef ban, which the WTO has ruled is inconsistent with international trade rules. …