American epicurians have an extra month to enjoy Roquefort cheese, famous for its blue colour and stinky smell, before it faces a 300% increase in tariffs. The US plans to raise duties on EU products to counter an EU ban on hormone-treated beef.
One of the last decisions of the Bush administration was to announce that tariffs on European products would be tripled starting on March 23 in retaliation for an EU ban on US hormone-treated beef.
Under the new Obama leadership, US authorities then moved to delay the action until April 23 in the hope a solution could be found. But it was too little too late. Roquefort imports have already slumped and the stinky blue cheese is about to become a luxury.
In Manhattan, cheese lovers gathered under a ‘Au revoir Roquefort’ banner to bid farewell to the cheese.
“It comes across as ridiculous, doesn't it ? It’s like they have a vendetta...” says a customer. “It’s just as silly as all eight years of Bush’s presidency,” echoes another cheese lover.
The EU's ban on hormone-treated beef - in place since the early 1980s - has long been a source of trade disputes with partners such as the United States and Canada.
The World Trade Organization in 1998 ruled that the EU had violated trade rules by banning the hormone-treated beef, thereby allowing the United States and Canada to impose trade sanctions on the bloc.
The threat on Roquefort is mostly symbolic. The US market accounts for less than 2 % of all blue cheese produced.
But the controversy highlights the difficulties French cheeses have faced in the last few years. In 2008, because of a strong euro and high milk prices, French exports of cheese to the US declined by more than 15 %.
And all this has happened as Americans grow increasingly sophisticated about cheeses.
Here in New York City, on the markets, there are more and more locally-made cheeses, says Denis Cottin, a Frenchman who supervises cheese caves in the heart of Manhattan for an American company.
And, irony of ironies, the US even produces even a raw milk blue cheese that is now being exported to Europe.
Date created : 2009-03-23