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The french fries war begins

The European Union will file a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the measures taken by the South American country regarding the importation of pre-cooked and frozen potatoes from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

French fries on a plate

French fries on a plate. / Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño

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Leer en español: La guerra de las papas a la francesa

Belgium, through its foreign minister, Didier Reynders, said they have a "real problem" with Colombia on the issue of tariffs that have been imposed on this important export product for the European country. It is that the tariffs that the coffee country charges for the income of this product reach up to 8%.

Colombia, for its part, through the Ministry of Foreign Trade, argues that this is an “anti-dumping” decision, meaning it is a defense measure that seeks to protect the price of merchandise and therefore of the domestic production of the agricultural product and the income of thousands of families dedicated to planting this tuber.

José Manuel Restrepo Abondano, Minister of Commerce in Colombia, said that "with this type of trade defense measures, what is sought is to correct a market distortion that causes damage to a productive sector and restore the conditions of market competition" .

For their part, in Europe they have not liked this type of measures that they ensure affect trade between the parties. The Swedish Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner of Commerce, said that this measure of the Colombian government is "completely unjustified and harmful to European companies."

However, Restrepo Abondano justifies the action of Colombia explaining that "with this type of trade defense measures, what is sought is to correct a market distortion that causes damage to a productive sector and restore the conditions of market competition" and he added that "the first step is to resort to a friendly solution, a stage in which Colombia hopes to reach a solution with the European Union."

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According to data from Belgapom, the recognized association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry, the production of processed Belgian potatoes (french fries) is the largest in the world, since 90% of the production is exported and a third of it is sent to countries outside Europe.

Colombia is no exception in taking measures to protect domestic trade from the tsunami of frozen French fries from Belgium. Countries like Brazil and South Africa have already done so and Peru is studying imposing new tariffs in the same way.

In Colombia, potato cultivation is concentrated in eight departments, especially Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Nariño, and Antioquia. It is there that 90% of the national production is grown. In the case of the first three, the cultivation of this tuber is the main agricultural activity generating employment in these regions, according to the Colombian Federation of Potato Producers, FEDEPAPA.

This crop that has been associated with the destruction of strategic ecosystems for Colombia, presents an important expansion that worries environmentalists and common people who see how the crop systematically destroys large areas of moorland in Colombia, ecosystems that represent only 3% of the national territory but that supplies 70% of the population in the South American country.

Given the concern about the expansion of potato crops in strategic ecosystems, Germán Palacio, general manager of FEDEPAPA says that “in Colombia, it has been decreasing in the area of potato production, every year we are reducing between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares,” he said.

On the other hand, it is the Ministry of Environment that defines the moors and Palacio added that “it will regulate the production in moors for low-impact agriculture, we do not plan to invade the moors anymore, because they are not contemplated in the production of potatoes for keep growing".

Consequently, what FEDEPAPA proposes is to grow in efficiency and implement new technologies that reduce production and processing costs to become a competitive market at an international level rather than continue growing in cultivation areas.

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