US triples import duty on French Roquefort

The French government attacked a US decision to triple import duties on its world-famous Roquefort cheese. The measure follows a long-running dispute with the European Union over restrictions on imports of US hormone-treated beef.


AFP - French government and food industry officials on Thursday denounced a US decision to triple import duties on Roquefort cheese, warning that it could spell the end of Roquefort exports to the US market.

"Incomprehensible and inadmissible" fumed Anne-Marie Idrac, secretary of state for state for foreign trade.

"I am very shocked that one of the last moves by the outgoing Bush administration is this increase in customs duties."

Roquefort cheese was among a number of European Union products to be hit with new US tariffs in retaliation for an EU ban on US hormone-treated beef, a move that escalated a longstanding trade row.

Under the measure France's renowned soft blue cheese, made from ewes' milk, will have its duties raised to 300 percent from 100 percent, effective March 23.

The office of the US Trade Representative updated its list of punitive duties, adding some products while deleting others.

The USTR said the decision was taken under a 1998 World Trade Organization ruling that found that the EU ban on US beef administered certain growth-promoting hormones, begun in 1988, was not supported by science and was thus inconsistent with WTO rules.

That ruling allowed Washington to impose trade sanctions on the European Union.

But the EU argued in 2003 that it did in fact have scientific grounds for the ban, thus making the restriction valid under trade rules. That argument however was rejected by the United States, which maintained its sanctions.

"We had already been taxed at 100 percent for nine years," said Robert Glandieres of the French association of Roquefort producers.

"Now, with 300 percent, sales of Roquefort to the United States will be finished."

Glandieres said Roquefort exports to the United States come to about 400 tonnes a year, or two percent of total output.

Veteran ecology activist Jose Bove denounced the US move against Roquefort as "perfectly scandalous."

"The United States is hoping that producers will put pressure on Europe in order to protect their (US) market.

"The issue is clear -- at no time will producers put pressure on Europe to open its borders to hormone-treated beef."

Militants from the SPLB milk producers' group led by Bove damaged a construction site for a future McDonald's restaurant in Millau, southern France in response to earlier US measures against Roquefort in August 1999.

Laurent Reversat told AFP Thursday that the group was now considering "something in common" with other members of the Roquefort industry to protest the latest US move. But he did not suggest that an action similar to that against McDonalds in 1999 would be carried out.

Beatrice Weirich of the regional federation of sheep raisers, FNSEA, said it was "frustrating that once again we are the ones who must suffer these reprisal measures by the United States."

"It was costing us dearly to maintain Roquefort (in the United States) ... Duties that go to 300 percent in fact exclude us from the US market.

"Roquefort is a symbol of France and we are paying for its stature."

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