US lifts Roquefort barrier in easing EU beef war

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The United States on Friday lifted trade sanctions on France's Roquefort cheese and other EU food products, part of a 2009 deal to settle one of the longest transatlantic trade rows in history.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk notified the federal government that it was putting an end to the additional duties on the products that were imposed in retaliation to a European Union ban on US hormone-treated beef.

"The Trade Representative has decided to terminate the additional duties imposed in connection with the EC-Beef Hormones dispute," Kirk's office said in a filing on the Federal Register.

The decision comes as part of an agreement signed by the United States and the European Commission in May 2009 to bury the hatchet in a battle that has raged for more than 20 years over US beef treated with growth-promoting hormones.

In exchange for greater and untaxed access to the EU market for US beef that was not treated with hormones, the EU maintained its right to continue its ban on imports of the hormone-treated beef. Washington is still trying to convince Europeans that it poses no health risk.

As part of the 2009 agreement, the EU is to incrementally increase market access and Washington is to give up its retaliatory duties on Roquefort and a wide array of products, including meats, vegetables, fruits, grains, chocolate and mineral water.

On Friday, the European Commission hailed the US move as "a very positive signal and welcome step towards the settlement of this dispute."

Noting the US had taken the step ahead of the agreed timeline, the EU executive body said it was preparing a proposal for European authorities "to authorize the movement to the next phase, whereby the EU will further increase market access opportunities for non-hormone treated US beef."

© 2011 AFP

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