Chiquita Enlisting U.S. Politicians in Banana Battle

Article excerpt

Yes, we have no bananas growing in the United States - hardly any to speak of, anyway. And yes, we have no bananas growing in Europe, either.

But, somehow, we have a banana war, in which leading politicians in the United States and the European Union are turning yellow with indignation over who should dominate the banana trade.

At the center of the dispute is multimillionaire Carl Lindner, a major campaign contributor to both Democrats and Republicans who controls the world's biggest banana company, Chiquita Brands International Inc.

At Lindner's prodding, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., have launched administrative and legislative attacks on the European Union and a handful of Latin American countries allied with it. They claim the EU rigs its lucrative banana market in a way that has slashed Chiquita's sales in Europe while boosting banana imports from other, favored sources.

The European plan, in essence, allows banana imports from former colonies and from a few countries that agreed to negotiate quotas with the European Union, including Colombia and Costa Rica, while restricting bananas from countries such as Honduras, a major source for Chiquita.

It's not a pretty spat. Both Washington and Brussels are drawing harsh criticism from economists for allowing domestic politics to taint their trade policies even more than usual. Caught in the crossfire are banana-producing nations in tropical regions that face the prospect of devastating losses of export revenue.

From the U.S. standpoint, the most striking aspect of the affair has been the zealousness shown on Chiquita's behalf by Kantor and Dole.

"It's almost embarrassing," said Greg Mastel, a trade specialist at the Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington think tank. "There are basically no American jobs at stake. …