(Dec. 4) To the relief of U.S. produce exporters, the blunt instrument of retaliation convinced President Bush to lift U.S. steel tariffs.

With a Dec. 10 deadline fast approaching, Bush on Dec. 4 lifted steel tariffs and averted the European Union’s promised duties on a wide variety of U.S. goods, including grapefruit, apples and pears.

The EU had won a World Trade Organization case that resulted in its right to impose $2.2 billion in retaliatory tariffs by mid-December if the U.S. didn’t remove the steel tariffs, which were imposed in March 2002 for what was supposed to be three years.

Among a wide variety of U.S. goods, fresh produce items exports with an annual trade value of more than $140 million were targeted with 15% tariffs by the European Union. The EU had been prepared to slap the retaliatory duty on U.S. grapefruit, grapes, apples, cherries, pears, mangoes, walnuts and guavas.

If Bush had kept the tariffs in place, the impact would have been felt in politically important states like Florida. The impact on U.S. grapefruit exports in Europe would have been severe, said Richard Kinney, chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Packers, Lakeland. Cheaper fruit from Cyprus and Israel would have gained a greater advantage in that market, Kinney said.

As expected, Bush announced measures to extend assistance to the steel sector.

The administration will put in place permanent early reporting requirements to detect any big influx of steel into the U.S. and also is expected to employ U.S. anti-dumping laws more aggressively.