Commission takes Colombia to WTO over ‘French fries’ dispute

Open Vld (Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats) chairwoman Gwendolyn Rutten (L) and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (R) prepare French fries during a press meeting of French-speaking liberals MR and Flemish liberals Open Vld on their common priorities, in Brussels, Belgium, 21 May 2019. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The European Commission announced on Monday (14 October) that it will challenge at the World Trade Organisation the tariffs imposed by Colombia on frozen French fries, which the EU executive sees as “completely unjustified”.

The Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, told reporters that she had instructed her services to file a complaint at the WTO against the Colombian duties on the frozen fries “as soon as possible”.

Bogota decided last November to impose anti-dumping tariffs of 8% on frozen French fries imported from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The Colombian government argued at that time that these imports were sold in their territory below market price.

The Commission had tried to solve the dispute with Colombia, without any result.

Malmström explained on Monday that, over the past two years, the EU executive contacted the Colombian authorities more than 30 times. But “despite the significant efforts, the measures could not be avoided,” she said.

She stressed that the punitive measures were “completely unjustified and were “harming European companies”.

French fries carry an important symbolic value in Belgium, well beyond the value of the country’s exports to Colombia (a fraction of the €25 million the EU as a whole sells to the country).

Save our fries! Belgians say EU spares national dish

Belgium’s national dish, the deep fried potato sticks that much of the English-speaking world gallingly calls “French fries”, has been saved.

In addition, Belgium’s potato processing sector has grown to become the biggest in the world in recent years.

It has jumped from 500,000 tonnes in 1990 to 5.1 million tonnes to 150 countries in 2018, according to Belgapom, the country’s potato producer association.

The Belgian government failed to find a solution with the Colombian authorities last year. As a result, it called on the Commission to take action.

“We are very happy,” Romain Cools of Belgapom told AFP. “Colombia’s measures were unfair. They were protectionism.”

The Colombian embassy in Brussels did not respond to EUIRACTIV’s request for comment before this article was published.

Trade grows

The announcement came as the EU executive announced the results of the implementation of its 41 trade agreements signed covering 72 countries.

Trade with goods continued to increase by 2%, in the case of EU exports, and 4.6% for EU imports.

Commission reports 'intense' spike in unfair trade practices

The European Commission published on Tuesday (31 July) its annual report on trade defence measures, which informed of 46 ongoing investigations for unfair commercial practices in 2017.

The progress made on the trade front over the past years had a positive impact on the Europeans’ views on this field, Malmström said.

According to the preliminary results of a Eurobarometer, to be published in the next couple of weeks, around six in 10 Europeans say they benefit from international trade, a 16% increase compared with 2010, the last time a Eurobarometer was conducted on this issue.

In addition, around 71% of Europeans believe the EU is more effective in defending their trade interests than the member states. A total of 56% consider that trade policies take into account social, environmental and human rights impact, and almost two-thirds trust the EU to conduct trade talks in a transparent manner.

“This is good news,” Malmström said.

Hogan convinces MEPs by toughening up trade stance

Phil Hogan obtained late on Monday (30 September) the MEPs’ preliminary approval to become the EU’s next Trade Commissioner, promising a tougher stance towards China to ensure the protection of European values, and environmental principles in particular.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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