Friday, July 16, 2004


No real blogs yet, but here are some articles I've written recently:
My Ode to Spam, in the Washington Post

A banana as the symbol of freedom, from the Wall Street Journal

Czechs, We Have No Banany
By Craig Winneker
Sometimes, to misquote Freud, a banana is not just a banana. Sometimes it is a symbol of freedom.
Such is the case in the Czech Republic, where in the decade and a half since the fall of communism, the banana has become the fastest-selling fruit at the green grocer. Per capita annual consumption of bananas in the country has risen from almost zero in 1990 to more than 15 kilograms per person, one of the highest levels in Europe.
And it's not just the Czech Republic; all of Eastern Europe loves bananas.
Legend has it that during the Cold War, West Berliners used to throw them to their neighbors on the other side of the Wall. When the Wall came down in 1989-and again when Berlin marked the anniversary of that dramatic event 10 years later-bunches of bananas were passed around as if they were celebratory bouquets. In former communist countries bananas are seen not just as a tasty and nutritious snack but as an exotic delicacy that freedom has made easy to obtain.
Enter the EU. That's what the Czech Republic and nine other countries have just done, to much deserved fanfare. But one of the many soon-to-be-felt side effects of this historic reunification of the continent is that the banana will change from a symbol of sweet liberty to an emblem of a spoiled rotten trade policy way past its sell-by date.
Followers of EU affairs will recall that bananas were at the center of one of the longest-running and, let's face it, most complicated and insufferably boring trans-Atlantic trade wars. Put as simply as possible, the EU protects banana producers in its former colonies by limiting access to its markets for others, such as Latin American growers. This artificially controls supply and keeps banana prices high all across the union. The new member states started operating under this regime on May 1-and the price hikes will hit soon.
"Suddenly, Czechs are going to have to line up for bananas . . . again," complains a friend from Prague. That's an overstatement. What they will have to do is pay more for banany than they have been, and a lot more than they should have to.
Chiquita, the U.S. banana giant that fought the EU quota system (achieving only minor success) has a big market share in Eastern Europe and recently sought assurances from the European Commission that it would be able to retain it once the quotas take effect there. "Consumers in those countries will be exposed to greater market dynamics," says a Chiquita spokesman. That's putting it delicately.
What's even more galling is the secondary effect this will have on shoppers in the 15 pre-enlargement EU member states, who are by now used to paying too much for bananas (and sugar, and a lot of other products). They'll benefit from what one industry lobbyist referred to as a "blowback" from the still cheaper prices in East European countries.
In other words, in the richer West, people will pay less for bananas than they have been, but still more than they should have to.
Thanks a bunch, Brussels.
My weekly column in European Voice can be read here, but only with a subscription.

My artices on can be read here, for free!


Craig said...

This guy's a genius

Anonymous said...

Genius? That's kind.
How about merely above average.