Not long ago, chicken was a costly delicacy in Europe; it was said that the European workingman ate a chicken only when either he or the bird was sick. Now chicken is common fare, and not just on Sunday. Much of the credit belongs to U.S. chicken farmers, who have brought down prices from Antwerp to Zurich by delivering frozen broilers to Europe at 30.5¢ a lb. Last year the intake of chicken rose 23% in West Germany alone. Demand for chicken expanded briskly in the rest of Europe, and U.S. farmers, with shipments worth $45 million, grabbed nearly half of the import market.
That's when the great chicken war began. The Dutch accused the U.S. of dumping chickens in Europe at prices below cost of production. In Bavaria and Westphalia, protectionist German farmers' associations stormed that U.S. chickens are artificially fattened with arsenic and should be banned. The French government did ban U.S. chickens, using the excuse that they are fattened with estrogen. With typical Gallic concern, Frenchmen hinted that such hormones could have catastrophic effects on male virility.*
Berlin & Broilers. The Common Market is making every effort to shoo away the U.S. chickens. A new rule effective last July fixes minimum prices on poultry entering the market, and each of the six member nations is also permitted to tack on a tax pegged to domestic poultry production costs. The minimum price set for U.S. broilers is 33.3¢ a lb., and the West German supplemental tax adds another 9.7¢. To make matters worse, the Common Market this month imposed an arbitrary surcharge of 2.8¢ on broilers. All this boosts delivery prices of U.S. chickens by as much as 50%. Since August, U.S. exporters have lost 25% of their chicken business in the Common Market.
The U.S. has begun to react to these fowl blows. In Geneva, Senator J. William Fulbright from chicken-fat Arkansas interrupted a debate over nuclear weapons for NATO forces to protest Continental hostility to U.S. chickens. Conferring with Konrad Adenauer about Berlin this month, John Kennedy also brought up broilers. In Brussels two weeks ago, Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman grimly announced: "We are not going to see our proper and historic export markets lightly taken away from us.''
The Bigger Fight. The great chicken war is only the opening blast in a larger crisis in trade relations between the U.S. and the Common Market. The U.S. sells 10% of its farm produce abroad, and one-third of that totalor $1.1 billion worth usually goes to Common Market nations. The Common Market has made no secret that it is moving toward broadly higher agricultural tariffs to protect small, inefficient European farmers. Last week a panel of U.S. economists reported to Congress that U.S. farm exports to Europe may shrink as much as 30% by 1970. Heaviest losses are expected to be in rice, wheat, feed grainsand poultry.
The U.S. is prepared to take countermeasures. "We did not come here to threaten," said Freeman in Brusselsand then he went on to threaten that the U.S. may boost some tariffs of its own if the Common Market does. But the newly potent Europeans appeared to be unruffled. They feel that the U.S. needs their markets more than they need U.S. markets.