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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

What Goes Around . . .

Apparently the unofficial American boycott of French goods is having an effect. (via Jane Galt.) This reminds me of a little story about bananas and roquefort cheese.

The European Union has long maintained a preferential quota and tarriff system for bananas produced in the ACP (African Caribbean and Pacific) group of countries, and American fruit giants, supported by major Latin American growers, had lobbied the Clinton Adminsitration to take on this case of EU protectionism. The US pursued a case at the WTO, and in 1999 its dispute resolution panel came to a decision in America's favour. THe EU, not wanting to leave the ACP countries out in the cold, maintained the system until a replacemenet meeting with American concersn was put in place. The US, on the other hand, was authorised by the WTO panel to levy up to $400 million of tariffs on European goods. The US decided to levy these on "luxury" goods, one of which was roquefort cheese.

French producers of roquefort were incensed, and some of them took direct action. In August of 1999, ten such farmers demolished a McDonald's franchise in in the small town of Millau, and carted it away. Those farmers were led by an individual with a history of protest: José Bové. Anti-globalisation now had a hero; Bové has been at the frontline of protests against free trade and other assorted "ills" of globalism.

"Civil Society" (read non-governmental organisations, or NGOs) read too much into the WTO protests in Seattle--those talks collapsed mainly because of what was going on (or not, rather) inside the conference center. Still, there has been litte progress on free trade since then, and the protest rallies, which lack a strong pro-trade counter, have not helped. Bové himself is now in prison, serving a 14-month sentence for destroying genetically-modified crops. There are others, though, more than willing to take charge, though. The point is that the present boycott, like the punitive tariffs in 1999, may have unforseen consequences. There are, after all, reports of a growing German boycott of American goods. In these uncertain times for the world economy, such tit-for-tat behaviour does not bode well.