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Roquefort
Food / Wine

Cheese-war between France and the US: The French won't surrender!

By Berlioz Deborah
28/01/2009

President Obama, forget about Guantanamo and the economic crisis! The French are asking you to face a very serious issue: a cheese-war is raging. Your predecessor in the White House has taken the Roquefort into hostage! Or at least, it is what the producers of this pungent cheese are saying.

In fact, just one week before the end of his term, Georges W. Bush decided to triple the import duties for the Roquefort from 100 per cent to 300. If the king of cheeses (it’s not me who says that, it was Diderot!) was already a luxury product in the US, its price will be
A Roquefort cellar
A Roquefort cellar
now completely prohibitive. Ok this is a really good cheese, but who would pay more than 100 euros a kilo? A hard blow for the producers, who exported 420 tons a year, or 2.5 of their production to the fast food country. 

This move is actually the latest volley in a larger 13-year-old trade fight between the European Union and Washington over beef treated with hormones. A long list of European products, from chewing gum to chestnuts are concerned by this retaliatory duties. All British produce are saved, as successive UK governments have supported the lifting of the EU ban.

So, if a lot of European countries are concerned, why are the French the only ones grouching out so loud? Please, do not make a hasty conclusion here. One could easily think it is only because French people are very proud of their cheeses, (it is also a question of national pride), or because protests come quickly to their lips (especially when some “ignorant Americans” are involved...) But for once, French people have a good reason to complain. The Roquefort is the only product on which America imposed a 300 per cent import duty. The tariff for the other foodstuffs is 100 per cent.

Why single out Roquefort? Is it be possible that Mr Bush is still mad at the French for not backing his Iraq offensive? The Roquefort defenders are keen to believe it. For them it is not just a story of trade fight over beef treatment with hormones. The move is seen as a “lame-duck” president’s final revenge against a nation of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. These two countries really know how to exchange sweet words…

José Bové
José Bové
José Bové, the anti-capitalist farmer famous for crahing a tractor into a McDonald’s in 1999, has also his own interpretation cocerning the American decision. He interprets the ongoing “cheese-war” as a cultural clash between natural, locally-made food respecting time-honoured traditions, and mass-produced “Frankenstein fare” (namely hormone-treated beef, fast food, GMOs).

But the French are not ready to surrender. As Asterix the Gaul, who resisted the Romans, they are ready to fight against Uncle Sam. “It won’t make us bend one centimetre” from the EU line against hormone-treated beef, said Michel Barnier, the agriculture minister. A French member of Parliament even proposed a tax on Coca-Cola. Symbol versus symbol. However, the French hope above all that the new American president will remove the tax. In this aim, they sent him a luxury package of two kilos of Roquefort. But they are perhaps forgetting that the president Obama has probably a lot on his plate before he gets to the “fromage et dessert”… 

COMMENTS:

02/03/2009 - mjwhitelaw said :

I will feel sympathy for the cheese-makers when the EU stops subsidising its agricultural products at the expense of countries like Australia.

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