Banana Conflict Heads to Hong Kong

December 2, 2005

IN a decision that Trade MinisterManuel González qualified as “historic” inthe ongoing conflict over Latin Americanbanana exports to Europe, the EuropeanUnion this week made official its plan toeliminate licenses for exporters and set itstariff on Latin American bananas at 176euros ($207) per metric ton.González welcomed the news of theelimination of licenses, saying that itwould allow easier access to the Europeanmarket for producers.“Licenses, which have so distorted themarket and have served to favor smallgroups, are, as of this decision, a cadaverin an overly complicated framework thathas been restricting the entrance of ourbananas into the European market,”González said, noting that the EuropeanUnion receives 50% of Costa Rican bananaexports. Of those exports, 90% are bytransnational companies, and 10% are byindependent companies, he said. However,50% of the bananas produced in Costa Ricaare produced by independent producers.However, González said the tariff istoo high, adding that the issue will be takento the next round of world trade talks to beheld in Hong Kong Dec.13-18.“In the context of the Doha Round of(World Trade Organization) negotiations,and in the context of the negotiations onagriculture in particular, we are going tocontinue to insist on lowering this tariff,”he said.This is the third proposal the EuropeanUnion has made for a new tariff as it preparesfor a transition to a new, tariff-onlytrade system. The current system is a combinationof tariffs and quotas, andexporters must have a license to sell to theEuropean market. The new regimen is setto take effect Jan. 1, 2006.Previously proposed tariffs of 230euros ($225) and 186 euros ($283) permetric ton of bananas were both rejectedby World Trade Organization arbitratorswho said the tariffs would not allow LatinAmerican countries the same access to theEuropean market they currently enjoy (TT,Nov. 4). Latin American banana producersnow pay an import tax of 75 euros ($92)per metric ton of bananas exported to theEuropean Union.Following the second arbitration infavor of Latin America on Oct. 27, theEuropean Commission proposed a tariff of179 euros ($211), but 11 member nationsopposed it. The Union is split betweencountries that support a high tariff on LatinAmerican bananas so as to favor the collectionof banana-producing nationsknown as the African, Caribbean andPacific (ACP) group, which includes manyformer European colonies, and those whowant lower tariffs and lower prices fortheir consumers. The ACP nations currentlyreceive duty-free access to the Europeanmarket, but are limited by a quota.The union of Latin American bananaproducingnations also recently encounteredinternal divisions, after holding multiplesummits on the topic of bananas and declaringtheir unity in the face of European tariffhikes. According to González, the nationswere divided between those who wished tostay with the current system – countries theminister declined to name – and those whowere pushing for a system based only on asingle low tariff, countries that includedCosta Rica, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia.With the Union’s most recent decision, however,González said, Latin American countriesare once again unified.The new tariff will be monitored by theEuropean Union in the first months of2006, and could be changed depending onthe way it affects the market, according tothe minister.

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