- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

The timing seemed to be far too precise to be coincidental. After diplomatic negotiations that required a conversation between the French foreign minister and Secretary of State Colin Powell and a visit from France's Washington ambassador to the U.S. deputy national security adviser, arrangements were finally made for President Bush to receive a phone call from French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday. It was their first conversation in more than two months. The White House described the chat as "businesslike."
Speaking of business, France's major business federation, the Movement of French Enterprise (Medef), also addressed the bilateral relationship the very same day, declaring that Americans displeased with French obstructionism "must keep products and services of our enterprises outside their quarrel." In other words, despite being appalled by M. Chirac's unrelenting efforts to protect Saddam Hussein from the consequences of his behavior, Medef insists that American consumers must continue to buy French products. To their credit, many Americans disagree, and have unilaterally exercised their right to boycott French goods. They have done so to such an extent that France's principal business federation has literally begged them to stop.
A quick review of U.S.-French trade and the French economy confirms why Medef is so alarmed at the growing American consumer boycott. Had it not been for France's $10 billion per year trade surplus with the United States over the past three years (compared to a U.S. trade surplus of $2 billion 10 years earlier), the weak and rapidly deteriorating French economy would be much weaker today and would have deteriorated even more rapidly in recent years.
U.S. travel expenditures in France and passenger fares averaged nearly $5 billion in 2000 and 2001, but American tourism in France is now down 20 percent. French wines are disappearing from retailers' floors, while the No. 1 U.S. importer of French wines reports orders down 10 percent over the past two months.
Appropriately, the American consumer boycott movement germinated without the encouragement of the White House, whose free-trade credentials remain much stronger than France's, by the way. As hardy advocates of free trade ourselves, we welcome the absence of U.S. governmental interference, while heartily endorsing the newfound preferences of American consumers for non-French wines and non-French vacation destinations. As for the growing inventories of French perfumes, perhaps local marketers can devise an ad campaign to expand demand from Frenchmen who could use a squirt or two.

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