Businesses tough out US threats to transatlantic sales
Jon Henley in Paris and John Hooper in Berlin
Friday February 14, 2003
American anger over France and Germany's refusal to back the US-led march to war in Iraq could dent both countries' transatlantic sales, experts said yesterday, but most said the impact would probably be more symbolic than economic.
After a French cheesemonger revealed that many US customers were refusing to buy his produce online because of his country's anti-war stance, France's economic affairs ministry moved swiftly yesterday to announce that there was no evidence yet of a more generalised downturn.
A spokesman for the French wine bureau said US sales of bordeaux and burgundy were "perfectly normal" last month, but warned they could slump if US consumers organised boycotts, as they did when France resumed nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1995 and 1996.
Several emblematic French industries, including fashion, food and wine, also suffered in the wake of France's 1986 decision not to let US jets fly over France on their way to bomb Libya, but "only for a matter of a few weeks", said Boris Marchand-Tonnel of the French-US chamber of commerce in Paris.
In Congress some members are considering a protest that would put orange hazard stickers on French wines.
A US advert, to be aired soon, shows three German-made cars, including an Audi and a BMW, driving towards the camera. The slogan is: "Do you really want to buy a German car?"
But Mr Marchand-Tonnel played down the threat, saying the current crisis would be "neither better nor worse" than during previous ones. "Maybe in a few New York restaurants, a few clients will refuse to order French wine," he said. "But it's peanuts against the overall picture, it's really just symbolic."
Some large industrial contracts could be in danger, however. "I'd be very surprised if US airlines that are in financial trouble and being bailed out by the government decide to order any Airbus jets in the near future," he said. "Wherever the federal government has a say, it will make its feelings known."
French tourism professionals said the number of US visitors to France had slumped by nearly 19% last year, and the head of the Nice area tourist board, Michel Tschann, said they were a further 10% down last month compared with the year before.
In Germany, Anton B?rner, of the country's exporters' association, BGA, warned this week that "no one could succeed in the long term in doing business with major clients while in a dispute with them".
But Bernhard May, transatlantic expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said: "Most people know that, if they buy a BMW, the parts come from maybe 60 countries - including the US."