Handcuffs await Brits on US trade blacklist

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The Independent Online
Trade imperialism is perhaps an issue on which it ill becomes us Brits to lecture the United States, for over the centuries we've practised quite a bit of it ourselves. None the less, what the US is now doing over Cuba, and threatening to do over Libya and Iran, amounts to bully-boy tactics of the worse sort. It is also almost certainly illegal under international law.

What has happened is this. The Clinton Administration is taking powers to act against any company, foreign included, which trades with countries it doesn't like. Now this might be a wild over-simplification of the position, but in essence that's it. The excuse is that Cuba, Iran and Libya have all at some point or other expropriated US assets. Until we get satisfaction, the US says, anyone who trades with these countries is "trafficking in confiscated US property" and will be penalised accordingly.

What's brought this to a head is that the US has moved to ban from entry into the country executives of a Canadian mining company with interests in Cuba. It just so happens that this company is owned by BAT Industries. As a consequence, the executives affected include Sir Patrick Sheehy and Rupert Pennant-Rea. If they set foot in the US, they'll have the handcuffs clamped on them. EU interest in the matter has been heightened by the prospect of Iran and Libya being brought into the net. Few European countries have trading interests with Cuba, but Libya and Iran are a different matter.

The US needs to be given a bloody nose over this little escapade. On the logic used by the US, the Brits would arrest Bill Gates on his next visit to Britain because British assets in Russia, where he trades, were expropriated at the time of the 1917 Revolution.

What this is all about, of course, is politics and more particularly, President Bill Clinton's campaign to win a second term of office. Getting tough on the Cubans and other foreign "nasties" is all part of the game. If tearing up internationally accepted trade law is the price that needs to be paid for electoral advantage, so be it. Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade has already tried the path of reasoned persuasion. It hasn't worked. Time now for retaliation. He might start by ensuring that the forthcoming pounds 2bn RAF order for maritime patrol craft is awarded to BAe, and cut Lockheed out of the action. Our friends in the White House might then get the message.