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U.S. lifts trade sanctions against European goods

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration on Sunday formally lifted trade sanctions the United States had imposed on $191 million worth of French handbags, British bed linens and other European products in a fight over European banana barriers.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the administration was satisfied with the steps the EU had taken to implement an agreement the two sides had reached on April 11. That deal will begin to dismantle the barriers American banana companies found objectionable.

The action on Sunday means that $191 million worth of European products effectively barred from the U.S. market because they faced 100 percent U.S. tariffs will become available again.

Those products include bath preparations, handbags and wallets, felt paper and paperboard, paperboard boxes, lithographs, bed linens, batteries and coffee makers.

The Clinton administration imposed the duties after the EU refused to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that the EU's banana import barriers were inconsistent with WTO rules.

Zoellick, President Bush's top trade negotiator, has made it a priority to work toward a resolution of the long-running banana dispute and a separate fight over EU restrictions on U.S. beef produced with growth hormones.

"This process represents a serious effort by the United States and the EU to manage our differences in a spirit of mutual respect," Zoellick said.

Under the banana settlement, Europe agreed to gradually increase its quotas for bananas grown in Latin America until 2006 when all preferential quotas would be eliminated.

The new European licensing system was to take effect Sunday. The administration said Sunday it was satisfied the system met the terms of the agreement.

Two big U.S. companies — Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Dole Foods Co. — contended they had lost almost half of their European sales when the EU in 1993 implemented a new quota system that gave preferential treatment to bananas grown in former European colonies in the Caribbean and Africa.