More than a year after the European Union (EU) promised to eliminate quotas on the volume of bananas that can be imported to the Continent from Latin America, and nearly a decade after complaints against the quota system were first voiced, Europe still hasn't embraced the principles of the free market.
Back in June of last year, we took a look at the EU's faux plan to create a free (fruit) market. Having been ordered by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to liberalize its market for bananas, the EU promised to scrap its quota-and-tariff system -- then immediately promised to replace it with an equally restrictive system that would be based exclusively on tariffs. Said then-EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler: "What will change is the import regime, not the level of protection."
The more things (don't) change, the more they stay the same. The EU initially replaced its quota-and-tariff system with rules that (a) let former European colonies in Africa and the Caribbean export bananas to the EU tariff-free, but (b) slapped a 230-euro-per-ton tariff on bananas imported from Latin America.
Last month, a renewed complaint to the WTO, filed by nine of the Latin American countries discriminated against by the tariffs, resulted in a ruling that the 230-euro tariff restricted free trade even worse than had the old quota system.
So yesterday, the EU returned with a counteroffer. Europe will reduce tariffs on Latin American bananas to 187 euros per ton. But don't be fooled by the lower number. New EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel reiterated her predecessor's position: "It was always our intention that the level of protection would not change under our new import regime," Boel said.
To add condescension to injury, Boel had her representative comment on the new tariff structure as follows: "We hope we will get nice, warm, happy noises from the Latin Americans.."
Nice. But hardly likely.
After all, the new, "reduced" tariff remains 150% higher than the tariffs operating under the quota system, a level that Panama's ambassador to the WTO termed "exorbitant."
It seems another round of appeals to the WTO will be in the offing. And we won't know until they've been resolved whether companies like Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Fresh Del Monte
Want to read more about the EU's fruity regulations? Go bananas:
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares in any company named above.