(Dec. 1) For two of the top three U.S.-based banana distributors who do business in Europe, impending changes in the European Union’s tariff regime on bananas is much more than the “compromise” that EU negotiators call it.

In fact, Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc. and Dole Food Co. Inc. said they were elated with the new tariff-only regime of 176 euros — $208.16, as of Nov. 29 — on imports of Latin American bananas expected to begin Jan. 1.

The other major U.S. player in the EU market, Chiquita Brands International Inc., said it didn’t like the EU’s Nov. 25 decision to endorse a proposal to introduce the 176-euro tariff.

Del Monte and Dole both say 176 is a veritable bargain, even compared to the current rate of 75 euros — $88.70.

“We’re very pleased that the union has determined to go tariff-only,” said Richard Dahl, president and chief operating officer of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole, which runs its Dole Europe SA business in Paris. “We wanted the market opened up. Obviously, with the quota system, you were constrained as to how many bananas you could sell.”

Dahl said Dole’s current market share in Europe was about 10%, adding that a little more than half of Dole’s bananas in Europe are sourced in Latin America.

World Trade Organization rules require the EU to change its banana-import regime by Jan. 1, replacing a system of tariffs and quotas. The current setup includes quotas totaling about 3.7 million metric tons. The WTO has ruled that the current system has put Latin American product at an unfair disadvantage against bananas shipped in from former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have a duty-free quota for 750,000 tons, while Latin American suppliers pay the 75-euro tariff per ton on everything they ship to Europe. The so-called ACP producers would retain their duty-free status under the new system.

“We are very pleased that there will be no more licenses and unfair business in Europe,” said Jean-Pierre Bartoli, senior vice president for Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Monaco-based Del Monte Fresh Produce International Inc., a subsidiary of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce. “We did not expect a lower figure but were hoping for a lower tariff to start with 150 or lower. Del Monte will be able to import more volume from Latin America and will maintain its present import volume from the ACP sources.”

Del Monte Fresh Produce International, which gets about 25% of its bananas bound for EU markets from Latin American producers and the rest from Africa, has about a 12% market share in Europe.

An alliance of the former colonies had called for a tariff of 277 euros — $327.61 per ton — on Latin American bananas. The Nov. 25 EU move is a move downward from its previous compromise proposal of 187 euros per ton.

Latin American banana-producing countries have fought to keep the tariff as is.

Chiquita agrees with them.

“The European Commission's two earlier proposals for a tariff-only regime — first at 230 euros per metric ton and later at 187 per metric ton — were rejected by a panel of WTO arbitrators earlier this year because they would not have resulted in ‘at least maintaining total market access’ for Latin American producers,” Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release.