Leading article: Europe must stand up to America's bullying tactics

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The Independent Culture
WHAT IS long and yellow and not funny? The trade war over the world's most comic commodity, the banana, is no joke. The behaviour of the United States is bullying, unconvincing and illegal, and quite extraordinary for a nation which espouses the values of free trade and the rule of law. The US has a legitimate point to make, which is that the European Union gives favoured treatment to the banana producers of the Caribbean. The EU has a legitimate point in reply, which is that it owes a moral obligation to its former colonies which are overwhelmingly dependent on a single crop. In a logical world, a compromise would be agreed, based on the common objective of eventually achieving a free market in bananas.

Instead, the US has gone, well, bananas, imposing retaliatory tariffs on a range of unrelated European goods, including Scottish cashmere, and threatening to ban Concorde. This is quite the wrong way to conduct a trade dispute, especially as it was only four years ago that the World Trade Organisation was set up to resolve precisely such disagreements as this. Just because the US does not like the way the WTO has handled it is the worst reason for taking direct action outwith the WTO's rules. How is the US now going to use its moral authority as a persuader for the benefits of free trade, if its first resort when it finds itself thwarted is crude protection?

Of course, this is not just about bananas: US resentments have been building up over Europe's refusal to import beef boosted by growth hormones, and over plans to ban old aeroplanes, which are seen as a covert subsidy for Airbus at Boeing's expense. But Europe also has its justified resentments - chief among them the inability of American producers to separate genetically modified soya from the common-or-garden kind. None of these issues is simple or one-sided enough to justify such aggressive action as that taken by the US.

Europe should, of course, resist the temptation to fight back and stick firmly to the moral high ground. But after we have resisted it for a bit, and if that does not work, let us roll up our sleeves and use some of the muscle the single market gives us and see how the Americans like it. Great enjoyment could be derived from choosing a target which would most offend US national sensibility: Europe could ban Coca-Cola - that did India no harm in the Seventies, and could be justified on health grounds for the sake of our teeth. We could ban Disney's cultural output - on grounds of quality control. We could ban Levi's - because it will not allow supermarkets to sell its jeans at a market price. Or McDonald's - on any grounds we like.

But we would rather not, because we believe in free trade, and do not think trade barriers should be used as leverage to obtain it. It is a shame the US is selling its principles short.