president bush Roquefort cheese, president bush tariff on Roquefort cheese, president bush tariff E.U.
Bob Edme/AP
An unidentified Roquefort cheese worker
crosses the street in
southwestern France, Wenesday, Jan. 21,

Former President Bush Accused of “Roquefort Embargo”

January 21, 2009 04:15 PM
by Isabel Cowles
As one of his final acts in office, President Bush increased the tariff on Roquefort by 300 percent, making it virtually impossible for the French to sell the popular cheese in the United States.

Bush vs. Roquefort: C’est la Guerre

On Jan. 16, President Bush raised the tariff on Roquefort to more than 300 percent, effectively closing down the French blue-veined cheese’s U.S. market.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized the tariff in both the U.S. and Canada, in response to the European Union’s continued ban on beef from hormone-treated animals. According to Bloomberg, the WTO will allow the two countries to levy duties on Roquefort and other European imports because the EU has not offered any scientific evidence that hormone-treated beef poses a cancer risk for consumers.

Agence France-Presse reports that the tariff increase on Roquefort will mean that the cheese price will go up from $40 a kilo to $130 a kilo, making it impossible to sell it to anyone other than luxury cheese vendors and high-end restaurants.

The U.S. is currently the third-largest importer of Roquefort, with total annual sales at almost $8 million. The economy of Roquefort, France, is entirely dependent on the cheese as no other agricultural products are capable of growing in its dry terrain.

The French agricultural minister, Michael Barnier, announced that France and the European Commission will appeal to the WTO regarding the tariff, telling France’s lower house of Parliament yesterday that France will not “bend one centimeter,” on its restrictions against hormone-treated beef.

So far, Canada does not appear to be following the U.S.’s lead on the Roquefort tariff.

Background: Roquefort rejection

The recent move is one in a long-standing dispute between the United States and France over imports. Tensions began in the 1980s when the EU banned hormone-treated beef, and have intensified in the last decade: in 1998, the WTO ruled that the ban violated trade rules and began allowing the U.S. and Canada to impose trade sanctions against the EU.

Many French people consider the tariff a deliberate final insult by the Bush administration. Recent disputes between the U.S. and France have frequently been symbolized by food; for example, Bush championed changing the name of French fries to “Freedom Fries,” when then-President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Opinion & Analysis: Americans look to Obama

Some Americans are unhappy over the move as well. Paula Crossfield, managing editor of Civil Eats, calls Bush’s tariff, “a last ditch effort to stick it to the French.” Crossfield lauds the French for preserving their traditional food heritage, which runs contrary to accepting hormone-injected beef.  According to Crossfield, the Obama administration will probably improve French-U.S. relations.

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