The head of a region in the Pyrenees known for its Roquefort cheese, Martin Malvy, said Friday he had sent the U.S. president-elect a 2-kilogram (4.5-pound) "package of prestige" of the odorous fromage to mark his ascension to office next week.
Along with the cheese was a letter lamenting the U.S. announcement Thursday of new sanctions on European foods, including a tripling of the duties for Roquefort imported into the U.S. The American move was the latest volley in a larger, 13-year-old trade fight between the European Union and the U.S. over beef treated with hormones.
Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier called the new duties "unjustified." French dairy farmers decried the U.S. decision.
"Roquefort has become an involuntary hostage" to international trade talks, Malvy said in his letter. He said the cheese is crucial to the economy of his rural region, Midi-Pyrenees.
France exported 3,800 tons of Roquefort in 2007, about a fifth of total production. The United States is the No. 3 importer of the cheese behind Spain and Germany.
Roquefort was one of dozens foods targeted in the trade sanctions. The changes announced by the U.S. trade representative Thursday included new duties on several European foods including chestnuts and chewing gum, and the removal of duties on a few such as Dijon mustard.
The United States said the changes were an effort to pressure the 27-nation EU to comply with World Trade Organization rulings against the EU ban on hormone-treated beef.
The EU says beef treated with certain hormones poses a risk to human health. But Canada and the U.S. persuaded the WTO that there is no scientific evidence to support a ban.
The Farmers' Confederation, a leading French union, urged the EU and the French government "not to cede to pressure by the United States, and to protect European consumers who don't want to be confronted with food products of more than dubious sanitary quality" including hormone-treated beef and chlorine-treated chicken.
It urged Obama to "renounce this kind of practice."