Sunday, February 1, 2009

Protectionism, cheese and the pursuit of happiness.

Governing a nation boasting 246 varieties of cheese is hard work as statesman Charles de Gaulle once famously said. The controversial Czech Presidency sponsored art work ‘Entropa’ and its portrayal of France as “en grève” (on strike) hits the nail. Taking to the barricades is a kind of national sport and most French people thought it funny. Maybe only until last Thursday if they had to go anywhere with public transport.....

These days the French government is certainly no longer laughing. With the latest wave of mostly public sector workers hits the streets for more demonstrations. When so many in the private sector are struggling to find jobs or keep them, job-for-lifers and privileged union leaders are asking for more protection – read "privileges". The Left disagrees with the government stimulus plan which they argue is favouring capitalist bankers. Unions demand that the pre-crisis plan to cut jobs in the bloated administration is scrapped. So they go on strike and cripple the economy a little more.... Of course the organizers see the use of taxpayers’ money to support them – read "legalised plunder" - as an eternal social given (acquis social). Not that these unions really need any subsidies. With workers understandably worried about their future, collectivist utopians are doing well. For them, business is growing.

Not so for Roquefort cheese producers whose exports to the USA have been dealt a final blow (the first was in 1999 was a 100% customs duty). Indeed one of the last decisions taken by the Bush Administration was to triple customs’ duties on the Aveyron cheese. One has to wonder what can possibly warrant such a harsh and unjust measure. A regular feature of the French diet, it poses no health threat. Lest you forget it in the boot of your car, it has no adverse effect on the environment. Producers have no other agenda than to earn an honest living in trying times…. The answer is the return of politics on our plates with the opening of a new chapter in the life of a cheese inextricably caught in a transatlantic trade war. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it isn’t good news for consumers on both side of the ocean. The G20 leaders had pledged to protect free trade but what we are being served is “appellation contrôlée” protectionism.

It is not known if President Obama is fond of Roquefort but he spoke eloquently of hope and free trade. So at the start of his presidency, here is an opportunity to demonstrate that he means change by revoking a ludicrous obstacle to free enterprise. Hence perhaps inspiring European leaders to do the same for US products. Fancy that! A variety of cheese influencing global governance...

The pursuit of happiness is as diverse as there are individuals. In a globalised economy, some see its attainment in the freedom to eat unpasteurized fromage accompanied with Californian red. But at a price determined by the “invisible hand” of the market, not by politicians.

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