Obama yet to comment on French cheese spat

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President Barack Obama is keeping mum on a US lawmaker’s plea to remove an import duty on France's Roquefort cheese.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has yet to answer a US congressman's plea to spare France's Roquefort cheese from a crippling 300-percent import duty, the lawmaker's office said Monday.

Democratic Representative James Oberstar wrote Obama on 2 February, urging him to take steps against "this mean-spirited and unproductive punitive duty" as part of a campaign "to re-establish America's moral authority in the world."

Oberstar, who hails from Minnesota, was taking aim at a measure imposed in the final days of George W Bush's presidency as part of a package of duties in retaliation for a European ban on US beef containing hormones.

Oberstar, who co-chairs the 100-member congressional French caucus founded to counter anti-France sentiment around the Iraq war, has yet to hear back from the White House, an aide told AFP.

"Reducing or eliminating this petty tariff would be a strong gesture to the French people that the new administration values its partnership with the European Union," the Democratic lawmaker said through a spokesman.

"The current global economic crisis is threatening Roquefort cheese producers just as it threatens Minnesota families in my district; it has never been more important to work with our friends to maintain mutually beneficial trade agreements," he said.

A White House official said a reply to Oberstar's letter was in the works, but declined to describe the content or the timing.

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.

In January, the president of Roquefort's home region sent Obama a specially sealed box of Roquefort to celebrate his inauguration.

AFP / Expatica

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