Peace in the banana war

Zoellick: Bush's trade rep achieves deal to end trade dispute with European Union.

April 14, 2001

THE BUSH administration notched its first foreign policy success this week, which had nothing to do with China. It was the European Union's agreement to phase out quota preferences on banana imports.

President Bush's trade representative, Robert Zoellick, reached the deal that had eluded the Clinton administration. It ended a nine-year struggle that included U.S. retaliatory trade sanctions on European luxury imports, authorized by the World Trade Organization.

The European Union in 1993 slapped on quotas largely kicking South and Central American product out of that vast market in favor of bananas from former European colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and the South Pacific.

Although the United States does not grow bananas, two U.S.-based companies that sell them, Chiquita of Cincinnati and Dole of California, lost business.

Before the quotas, Chiquitahad 40 percent of the European market. The loss drove it to a scheduled financial reorganization.

Chiquita's principal owner, Carl Lindner, is a big contributor to both political parties. The Clinton administration labor in his behalf did not pass everyone's smell test. But the Bush administration picked up the gauntlet, as any U.S. administration would, and was more successful.

Under the deal, U.S. retaliatory sanctions on $191 million worth of European luxury trade goods will end July 1, while Europe's banana quotas will be phased out by 2006. During the transition, quotas will reflect previous import figures, that is, restore Chiquita's position.

The accord is a victory for free trade, for the WTO as an arena for correcting problems, and for Mr. Zoellick, who has been in office just two months.

One thorny problem between the United States and its European trading partners has been removed. Others remain.

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