From bananas to solar panels: when trade conflicts turn bad 

Concerns over food safety have led to many trade conflicts ©BELGA/CPD/SCIENCE  

Sometimes countries feel it is worth reaching for trade restrictions because of concerns over health or unfair competition Read more about past trade disputes involving the EU.

In 2013 Europe slapped anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar panels over concerns they were being sold below cost. After China said it would resort to imposing high tariffs on wine imports from the EU, the two parties reached an agreement in December under which Chinese producers of solar panels and key components agreed to a minimum price when selling in Europe.

The EU was at odds with the US and Canada for two decades over beef treated with hormones, which it considered as a potential health hazard. Our transatlantic partners responded to a ban by limiting imports on European products such as cheese, mustard and chocolate in 1999. It was finally resolved in 2012 when the European Parliament approved a deal to increase imports of hormone-free beef from the two countries, who would then rescind the import restrictions.

Health concerns were also behind a spat over genetically modified food and crops from the US. European consumers remain suspicious of them and the EU slow to approve new varieties. As recently as January 2014, the European Parliament rejected a new strain of genetically modified maize as the producer failed to sufficiently demonstrate its safety.

Banana imports provoked a long-running dispute with the US. Bananas imported from former European colonies in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific were not subject to duties in the EU to help stimulate their economies. This was resented by many large banana producers in Latin America, which were often operated by American companies. The US lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization and inflicted punitive duties on European products such as cheese and cashmere. The EU eventually agreed to lower tariffs to give South American producers a chance to export more to Europe.

In October 2013 MEPs condemned Russia for using trade distortions in an attempt to affect the EU presidency. The country imposed discriminatory customs checks on trucks from Lithuania, which was at the helm of the EU Council in the second part of 2013, and also threatened to ban imports of Lithuanian dairy, meat and fish products. Some MEPs said the measures could be seen as an attempt  to derailthe EU's attempts to foster closer trade links with its eastern neighbours. Russia also used import bans to discourage countries such as Moldova and Ukraine from getting closer to the EU.