Strawberry warriors bury the hatchet

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Series Details Vol.4, No.28, 16.7.98, p5
Publication Date 16/07/1998
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Date: 16/07/1998

By Myles Neligan

THE violent battles which take place every spring between French fruit and vegetable growers and their Spanish counterparts could be relegated to the history books under a new agreement due to come into force at the end of the year.

Dubbed the 'strawberry wars', such confrontations are an indirect result of Spain's warmer weather, which means that fresh Spanish produce comes on to the French market several weeks before fruit and vegetables grown in France, and at a cheaper price.

Incensed by what they see as a form of dumping, French farmers block Spanish lorries, destroy cargoes of fruit and vegetables and put pressure on retailers not to buy Spanish produce. In 1997 alone, such protests deprived Spain's growers of an estimated 150 million ecu of income.

The agreement, signed last week by French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement and his Spanish counterpart Jaime Mayor-Oreja, aims to improve cross-border cooperation and tighten up security.

Trade and agriculture officials from the two countries will meet twice a year to exchange information on fruit and vegetable production estimates, and to agree on market management measures. Meanwhile, four new police and customs offices will be set up at key border crossing points so that the authorities can react swiftly to any attempt to block Spanish imports. These offices will be run by French and Spanish authorities.

The European Commission, which this year brought a successful court case against France for failing to take action against its strawberry warriors in 1995, has welcomed the new deal.

"We support any bilateral agreement that upholds the single market without causing market distortions elsewhere. We have always encouraged France and Spain to resolve this issue by putting their heads together," said a spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler.

EU fruit and vegetable traders have also reacted positively. "Any initiative that will put an end to this perpetual conflict is most welcome," said Vincent van Dijk, secretary-general of EU fruit and vegetable wholesalers' association EUCOFEL.

"Our trade has been hit harder than most over the years by French street protests. It is time France accepted that our industry operates in a single market, where all parties stand to benefit if they just play by the rules."

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