Belgium summons reinforcements in Colombia chip war

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Belgium, self-proclaimed inventor of the French fry or chip, urged Europe on Friday to help it fight a tariff slapped on its iconic export by Colombia.

The potato was first farmed in the Andes mountains of South America, but once it is chipped and fried, Belgium claims it as it own -- and exports it to back to its ancestral home.

Despite being widely dubbed "French", fries are a prized product in Belgium and its frites culture was added to the UNESCO cultural treasures list last year.

Colombia, however, accuses Belgian, Dutch and German agribusiness of dumping cheap chips on its market and undercutting struggling local producers.

Belgian firms deny this, and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders says he will ask the European Commission to bring the issue to the World Trade Organization.

"I have had many meetings with our Colombian friends ... but until now without any real effect," Reynders said as he arrived at an EU trade council.

"We are going to ask the commission to do the job and to go to the WTO and start consultations," he warned.

On November 1, Bogota decided to impose anti-dumping duties on frozen fries from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

"Europe will defend European chips," Europe's top trade official Cecilia Malmstrom said after the meeting with EU trade ministers.

"We have warned (Colombian officials) that we are against what they are doing. We are preparing the legal dossier," Malmstrom added, though she said Brussels has yet to receive official notification by Bogota.

Belgium's potato processing sector has sprouted in recent years, jumping from 500,000 tonnes in 1990 to 4.6 million tonnes last year, according to Belgapom, the country's potato producer association.

More than 90 percent of production is destined for export and one third of that goes outside Europe.

Romain Cools of Belgapom said Colombia's tariffs would be confirmed in the coming days and come after similar moves in Brazil and South Africa.

"For a third time, the anti-dumping procedure is being misused as a form protectionism," Cools told AFP.

Cools also insists that major potato processing multinationals, such as McCain in Canada, hide behind the protectionist wave in the three countries.

"We are powerless," Cools said.

© 2018 AFP

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