A New Colonial War


Confronted with Bush tariffs on British steel, Stephen Byers, a former Blair minister, is proposing to strike back by using tariffs to attack the economic well-being of certain states the president must win in his re-election campaign. They include:

Florida: Scene of the tight election that gave Bush the White House in 2000, and a major exporter of citrus products. Florida is a key trading partner with Britain and the EU. Its bilateral trade with Britain last year amounted to $2.7 billion, and in addition to citrus products included high tech, chemicals, and autos. In 2002, Florida sent to Europe more than a third of its juice exports ($124 million) and about one-quarter of its fresh-fruit exports ($56 million). Tariffs are “a big concern,” said a Florida trade official. “If you lose that kind of market, it hurts.” The state also is a key shipping point for goods coming into the U.S. and going out to Europe and Latin America.

Tennessee: Chemicals. Bush narrowly won Gore’s home state. Britain is Tennessee’s third largest buyer of export goods, after Canada and Mexico. In 2000, chemicals amounted to 13 percent of the state’s exports.

Iowa: Agricultural products. The state will play a major role in the election when the nomination battle starts early next year. “The European farm market is an important market for farm equipment,” said Ken Golden, spokesman for John Deere in Iowa. “It’s as large or larger than the U.S. in terms of machines.” He added, “If the EU took action against farm equipment, it would be of great concern.”

Wisconsin: Apples and paper. Gore eked out a victory here in 2000.

Byers also wants to put tariffs on textiles, which would affect Southern states. In a letter to Pascal Lamy, Europe’s top trade negotiator, Byers said, “It is clear that steel tariffs were introduced for short-term political advantage to deliver on a promise made by George Bush during the last presidential election campaign in order to gain votes in key swing states like West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, where the steel industry is a major employer. The EU should now indicate that if President Bush fails to comply with the WTO ruling, then it will impose tariffs targeted at the major sectors of employment in politically sensitive swing states.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Sheelah Kolhatkar