Cheese spat causes stink for Obama in France

18th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Obama's outgoing predecessor George W. Bush, already a hate figure here after eight years of tense trans-Atlantic relations, bade farewell to French shepherds by slapping 300 percent import duty on their prime product.

Toulouse -- French cheese producers sought to cause a stink for incoming US president Barack Obama on Friday, sending him a case of pungent Roquefort to protest American import tariffs.

Obama's outgoing predecessor George W. Bush, already a hate figure here after eight years of tense trans-Atlantic relations, bade farewell to French shepherds by slapping 300 percent import duty on their prime product.

Now finding themselves effectively priced out of the small American market for luxury sheep's milk blue cheese, Roquefort producers have appealed to Obama to reverse the new US policy when he takes power next week.

And the president of the cheese's home region, Martin Malvy, has sent him a specially sealed box of Roquefort to celebrate his swearing in.

"The inauguration of Barack Obama is a source of great hopes, particularly of better relations between the United States and Europe. I therefore sent this prestigious product of the Pyrenees," Malvy explained.

Only two percent of Roquefort's annual production of 18,500 tonnes of blue veined goats' milk cheese is exported to the United States, but with the world economy in trouble the US move has raised the spectre of a trade war.

Officially, Washington increased Roquefort duties in response to France's ban on US beef, which is often raised on hormones, which are banned in Europe, but European officials suspect a hidden protectionist agenda.

"It's shocking, but the Bush administration has been stupid for eight years, so we could hardly have expected any flashes of intelligence in their final days," said Gerard Onesta, deputy speaker of the European Parliament.

"There's a difference between Europe wanting to protect its consumers and saying that beef with hormones is dangerous, and the United States acting to protect agri-business, which has no respect for health or the environment."

Onesta urged Europe to complain to the World Trade Organisation.

Tension over French cheese exports will probably be low on Obama's list of foreign policy headaches, even with a gift bundle of Roquefort slowly ageing in the Oval Office, but the issue has a history of generating trouble.

In 1999 enraged goatherds, led by French peasants' champion Jose Bove, stormed a McDonald's restaurant in the southern town of Millau and tore it down, in protest at American high-tech farming practices.

AFP/Expatica

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