French farmers raise stink over U.S. tariff on Roquefort cheese

French cheese makers are putting pressure on U.S. president Barack Obama to remove new U.S. import duties on French roquefort cheese applied by George W. Bush less than a week before he left office.

French cheese makers are putting pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to remove new import duties on French Roquefort cheese applied by George W. Bush less than a week before he left office.

The move comes after French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said Tuesday that France and the European Commission will appeal to the World Trade Organization to have the new levies lifted.

French cheese makers dropped off a wheel of the pungent cheese at the U.S. Embassy in Paris on Wednesday. It was part of their appeal to Obama to reverse the decision by the former Bush administration to triple U.S. import duties on the product.

"We are hostages in trade talks between Europe and the United States," Jean Calmels, deputy mayor of the village of Saint Rome de Dolan and a milk producer for Roquefort, said at the protest.

Militant farmer Jose Bove, who has made headlines for attacking McDonald's restaurants in France, told CBC News at the protest that Obama is "cultured" and the farmers hope he will take their demand seriously.

The tripling of duty on Roquefort was among a number of higher tariffs on European foods applied by the former Bush administration on Jan. 15. Other foods affected include fruit, chocolate, chestnuts and chewing gum.

The French government has said it sees the latest tariffs as part of a trade fight between the European Union and Washington over beef treated with hormones.

U.S. beef at issue

The new sanctions, which take effect in March, are designed to persuade European governments to follow World Trade Organization rulings and lift a ban on U.S. hormone-treated beef.

When he announced the plan to fight the tariffs in a speech in the French lower house of parliament, Barnier said the U.S. move was "pretty mediocre" and it "won't make us bend one centimetre" from the EU position against importing hormone-fed beef.

France exported about 3,800 tonnes of Roquefort in 2007. The cheese is made exclusively from the milk of the red Lacaune ewes that graze in the Aveyron region of France. A genuine Roquefort has a red sheep on the label.

The U.S. is considered a large market for the cheese. In 2007, it was the third-largest importer of the cheese after Spain and Germany.

With files from the Associated Press