France's Roquefort Cheesemakers Caught In Trade Spat Roquefort cheese producers in France say they've been unfairly singled out in a global trade war that has nothing to do with them. In response to the European Union's refusal to accept hormone-treated U.S. beef, the outgoing Bush administration slapped a 300 percent tariff on the blue-veined cheese.
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Roquefort Cheesemakers Caught In Trade Spat

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Roquefort Cheesemakers Caught In Trade Spat

Roquefort Cheesemakers Caught In Trade Spat

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MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, Host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, the price tag says $10; you'd like to pay $5. We learn tricks from an expert haggler in just a few minutes.

BRAND: But first. Zut alors! The price of Roquefort cheese has gone up. On its way out, the Bush administration slapped a 300-percent tariff on Roquefort. That was in reaction to the European Union's refusal to lift a ban on American beef that's been hormone-treated. But Roquefort cheesemakers in France say they have been unfairly singled out in a global trade war that has nothing to do with them. Eleanor Beardsley sends us this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The quarrels between Washington and the European Union couldn't seem further away from the sun-splashed stone villages and sweeping countryside of the Roquefort region in southwest France. For centuries here, the pungent, blue-veined delicacy has been crafted in a complex process using the land, traditions and techniques passed down through generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

BEARDSLEY: Unlike bleu cheese, Roquefort is made with ewes' milk, because only sheep are able to thrive in the arid, hilly terrain. Forty-seven-year-old Robert Glandieres is one of about 2,000 sheep farmers producing milk for Roquefort cheese. It's lambing season, and he's been working 12-to-15-hour days. Inside his barn are hundreds of ewes, many suckling newborn lambs. Glandieres says the tariff hike shocked everyone here.

ROBERT GLANDIERES: (Through translator) The only economic resource we have in this area is the making of Roquefort cheese, which employs about 10,000 people. Some bureaucrats may take Roquefort as a symbol of French gastronomy, but here, it's our livelihood, and we feel completely powerless. We're pawns in a trade war between Washington and Brussels.

BEARDSLEY: While other European products were also targeted by Washington, Glandieres says only Roquefort was hit so disproportionately.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELL RINGING)

BEARDSLEY: So, can I ask you why you came to visit...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEARDSLEY: Roquefort caves from Spain?

GEORGES BENITES: Unidentified Man: (French spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Man: (French spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BEARDSLEY: We never do find out if our shepherd gets the girl. The U.S. first applied tariffs on Roquefort in 1999 to protest the EU beef ban. Thierry Zurcher is the CEO of the Societe brand. He says producers lowered their margins then to stay in the American market. But by turning Roquefort into a luxury product as expensive as champagne, Zurcher says the new tariffs amount to an embargo.

THIERRY ZURCHER: (Through translator) But we'll still try to stay in the market and wait out these absurdities, because the U.S. has a real, growing gastronomy movement and people appreciate this cheese. If it weren't for the tariffs, the U.S. would be our number-one market and not a distant third.

BEARDSLEY: Zurcher says he sees no end in sight to the beef battle or the cheese tariffs, unless the new American president happens to be a fan of Roquefort. Just in case, the local politicians have sent Mr. Obama a Roquefort cheese welcome basket. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Roquefort, France.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAND: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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