WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) _ Dole Food Co. criticized this week's agreement between the United States and the European union over banana imports, saying it unfairly favors its chief rival, Chiquita Brands International Inc.

The trading partners settled a long-standing dispute earlier this week when the European Union agreed to allow bananas to be imported through licenses distributed on the basis of past trade until 2006, when a tariff-only system will take effect.

The United States had contended that the previous system, adopted in 1993, favored shipments from former European colonies in Caribbean and Pacific islands and Africa over cheaper bananas from Latin America sold by U.S. firms Chiquita and Dole.

But Dole said Friday the settlement merely perpetuates a closed system that favors European companies and Chiquita. It had favored a free markets approach during the transition to a tariff-only system, the company said.

``It gives one company, Chiquita Brands International Inc., a dominant, fixed market share of the European Union's closed, quota market and continues to allocate licenses to protectionist European Union traders,'' said David H. Murdock, Dole chairman and chief executive.

Murdock said powerful vested interests would put political pressure on the EU that would make it difficult to actually move to open markets in 2006.

Chiquita praised the agreement earlier in the week, saying it would allow a ``partial recovery in future periods'' of its sales in the EU.