November 9, 2018 / 3:47 PM / 5 days ago

Belgium raises stakes in Colombian frozen fries dispute

BRUSSELS, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Belgium, the self-proclaimed home of potato fries, said on Friday it wanted the European Union to launch legal action against duties that Colombia is planning to impose on imports of the frozen product.

A committee of Colombia’s economy ministry has recommended that producers in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands should face anti-dumping tariffs.

“You know at the moment we have a real problem with Colombia,” Belgium’s foreign minister Didier Reynders told reporters before a meeting of national ministers responsible for trade in Brussels.

Although small in money terms - the EU as a whole exports just 25 million euros ($28.4 million) of frozen fries to Colombia per year - the dispute is big in symbolism for Belgium, which argues it invented the “French” fry.

“We export a lot of agricultural products and fries, it’s a very important product in Belgium, as in other European countries,” he said.

Reynders said that meetings with Colombian officials had had no effect and that Belgium was asking the EU to seek consultations at the World Trade Organization, the first step in any dispute.

If such consultations fail to produce a solution within 60 days, the complainant can then ask for an WTO panel to adjudicate.

An EU diplomat said that Germany and the Netherlands were supporting the Belgian call. Austria, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, said it would also support Belgium.

“Europe will defend European fries,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said, adding that EU officials had met Colombian counterparts for the past two years to express concerns over the anti-dumping plans.

She said that Brussels would wait for the formal announcement that duties would be set before assessing whether to launch a WTO challenge.

$1 = 0.8808 euros Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Additional reporting by Julia Cobb and Carlos Vargas in Bogota; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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