Bananas are not worth a war

Trade dispute: U.S. strains definition of national interest on behalf of Latin products.

January 17, 1999

WASHINGTON is going to war -- a trade war -- to give bananas from Central and South America the same access to European markets as bananas from Caribbean islands. For this, the administration is preparing to retaliate with high tariffs on European products entering the United States.

Granted, some people like the nationalistic juices that flow during a brief trade war. But here the catch is the troubling definition of the U.S. national interest.

This fight does not defend U.S. workers against unfair advantages for European workers. It puts U.S. economic interests and goodwill at risk to champion Panamanian and Ecuadoran fruit against the produce of St. Kitts and Jamaica in Europe's kitchens -- issues that have little to do with the United States.

Yet U.S. Trade Ambassador Rita Hayes announced that Jan. 25, Washington will ask the World Trade Organization to approve $570 million in U.S. sanctions against European Union products.

If prohibitively high tariffs are imposed, the first losers will be the textile workers in Scotland who make cashmere sweaters and U.S. consumers who buy them.

The justification is that two U.S.-owned corporations, Chiquita Brands International and Dole Food Co., own large plantations that export the Latin products.

The principal owner of Chiquita, Carl Lindner, is a generous contributor to Democratic and Republican political campaigns.

If the European Union's trade favoritism for former European colonies does not pass WTO muster, it should be challenged through WTO mechanisms by the countries discriminated against. In treating this as discrimination against the United States, which it is not, the Clinton administration is putting the interests of U.S. workers and consumers at risk for those of two corporations with undue political influence.

Trade wars are always harmful but sometimes necessary. This one looks like the wrong fight. U.S. workers and consumers have higher priorities than whose bananas French and British consumers are compelled to buy.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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