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Import-Users Want off ‘Hit List’

April 19, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The owner of a trendy French bistro and the operator of a German delicatessen were upset. Ditto for the Swedish farmer, the owner of an Irish food delicacies mail-order firm and representatives for thousands of U.S. motorcycle enthusiasts.

All trouped to a government hearing room today to plead for removal from a $900 million ``hit list″ of products facing punitive tariffs threatened by the Clinton administration in a decade-long fight over Europe’s ban on American beef containing growth hormones.

Importers of foie gras, truffles, Belgian chocolates, Perrier and other European mineral waters and a host of other European delicacies appeared to make the case that their products should not be on the list.

Jeffrey Buben showed up in his chef’s uniform to say he was worried that business at Bistro Bis, his new French restaurant in Washington, would be hurt if he could no longer get the Dijon mustard he uses in many of his dishes.

``Dijon mustard is a unique product, and nothing else in the United States comes close,″ he said.

The punitive tariffs are designed to knock European products out of the U.S. market in retaliation for Europe’s ban on American beef from cattle treated with growth hormones. The World Trade Organization has ruled in favor of the U.S. industry’s arguments that the ban was not justified on scientific grounds.

The beef fight is one of two trade wars the United States is currently engaged in with the European Union. The administration has imposed punitive 100 percent tariffs on $191.4 million of European products including high-fashion hand bags and bed linens in retaliation for the EU’s refusal to abide by another WTO ruling that it drop import barriers on bananas grown by American companies.

The $900 million targeted in the beef battle primarily cover food products, although the preliminary sanction list also includes European motorcycles.

Importers of these small-engine motorcycles made in Italy, Spain, France and Austria said thousands of mom-and-pop motorcycle shops in the United States could be forced to lay off workers.

``Where is the beef in motorcycles?″ Edward W. Moreland, Washington representative of the 234,000-member American Motorcyle Association, asked the panel.

Some motorcyle officials warned that the government was putting at risk the safety of thousands of owners of European motorcyles who won’t be able to get replacement parts for repairs.

Hildi Fehr, owner of a German delicatessen and restaurant just a few blocks from the White House, said her business will suffer unless the government takes a number of items off the target list from Rittersport chocolate to Zweiback toast.

``The Schwartau raspberry jam is very important to me,″ she told the hearing panel, calling it a key ingredient in her Linzertortes. ``I have tried to use American substitutes ..., but the small jars don’t have the same intense flavor or consistency as the German rasberry jam,″ she said.

The price of American breakfast cereals could go up if the government keeps oats on the list, because the United States imports one-third of the oats it uses, mainly from Canada, Sweden and Finland, officials representing American cereal makers said.

Claes Nilsson, a farmer in Sweden who appeared on behalf of an association of Swedish grain farmers, said he is reducing his oat acreage by 50 percent because of the threat of U.S. sanctions. He predicted other farmers will do the same, which will drive up oat prices and lower prices of substitute crops such as barley.

Frank Capalbo, owner of Capalbo Gift Baskets Inc. of Nutley, N.J., said his life has been a nightmare the past few months because of constantly changing government threats. He said he was relieved that at the last minute the government decided to remove sweet biscuits from the banana hit list only to find out that a number of other food items in his catalogue of Irish products were being targeted in the beef fight.

``The continuing threat is terrible for our business,″ he said.

But representatives of the U.S. beef industry also appeared at the hearing, arguing that the sanctions were the only thing left to try to force the EU to drop its ban on U.S. beef. They urged the panel to consider a rotating list of products that would change every six months in order to bring maximum pressure on EU countries to come into compliance with the WTO ruling.

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