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European Press Review: Steel is But One Bone of Contention

European editorialists commented Friday on the U.S. decision to abandon steel tariffs as well as the controversial, pending sale of a German plutonium plant to China.

President George W. Bush may have swallowed his pride and agreed to end U.S. tariffs on foreign steel but the path of transatlantic trade relations is still far from smooth, wrote Britain's Guardian newspaper. Steel is but one of many bones of contention. The EU is already subject to U.S. sanctions worth $116 million dollars a year because of its refusal to accept imports of U.S. hormone treated beef, it said.

"Victory for EU as Bush abandons steel tariffs," the Independent entitled its article about the trade dispute. The British paper said the move was recognition that the tariffs were an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which never misses a chance to extol the virtues of free trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO) or to urge poorer countries to open up their markets to imports.

The mass-circulation tabloid the Sun praised Bush’s decision and called it courageous. It went on to say that the U.S. president had also kept a promise he made to the London paper in an interview three weeks ago at the White House. "I’m a staunch supporter of free trade," said Bush in the interview. The Sun said Bush had acted courageously since he risked losing support from workers in the U.S. steel industry.

Turning to Germany, Chancellor Schröder, who was in Beijing earlier this week, said a Chinese request to buy a plutonium processing plant would be examined. But back at home the deal not only has his Social Democratic Party friends up at arms, but also the junior partner in the governing coalition, the Greens. In an interesting twist, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger wrote, Foreign Minister and Greens leader Joschka Fischer favors the deal. He normally ranks as Germany’s most popular politician, but, as the paper said, he’s going to face some tough questioning over the China business deal at the parliamentary group's next meeting. What priority does nuclear disarmament take -- or human rights or even climate change policy -- when potentially lucrative Chinese-German business deals pop up?

Austria’s Der Standard concurred and wrote that Schröder was provoking his coalition partners with the plutonium plant's pending sale. If Schröder and his coalition partners are forcing an end to nuclear energy at home, but they’re trying to sell a plutonium plant abroad, the paper writes, then Schröder is really putting his reputation and believability on the line. And the fact that Joschka Fischer is also behind the move, it added, makes matters worse.

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