£20m EU garlic bill causes a stink

Apparently the UK owes Brussels £20m in under-paid duty on imported garlic. Sounds a bit whiffy to us...

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Remember the days when the worst that the most hardened Eurosceptic could say against the Union was that it was trying to force straight cucumbers and square tomatoes on the unwilling British consumer? Well, in an echo of those simpler times, a new row has broken out over veg, and this time it’s the humble Allium sativum that’s the cause of the ruckus.
 
It seems that EU officials have been poking around in their records and have ‘discovered’ that UK customs officials did not charge enough duty on imported Chinese garlic back in 2005-2006. The boys and girls from HMRC apparently mistakenly applied the lower tariff for frozen garlic to 25,000 tonnes of fresh garlic shipped in from the People’s Republic (which by the way is responsible for growing more than 75% of the world’s crop of the stuff). As a result, they claim, the coffers in Brussels are light to the tune of a cool £20m in underpaid duty. Enough to infuse a new EU aïoli lake or an awful lot of moules marinière.
 
Now leaving aside for the moment the question of what we are doing bringing all that garlic half way around the world when it grows perfectly well in many places a lot closer to home (British gardens included), the timing of this discovery is rather unfortunate. Just at the point when relations between Whitehall and Brussels appear to be coming to the boil, the EU bean counters chuck this spicy little number into the pot. If the UK doesn’t pay up in two months then officials risk being taken before the European Court of Justice to explain themselves.
 
At a time when the whole Eurozone is teetering on the brink of currency collapse, and threatening to knock big chunks off the British economy while it’s at it, picking a fight over this pungent bulb seems a little petty. And why on earth does it take them five years to figure it out anyway?
 
Surely the more pertinent question for our friends across la manche to be asking is how come France, the spiritual home of garlic, has let itself be so comprehensively outplayed in the international market? It’s not even in the top 10 global producers of the stuff, in fact the only EU country which is, is Spain.
 
But officials claim that it’s all a storm in a garlic press, and that the sending of such bills is a routine matter. An EU spokesman told the Telegraph that only last month, Italy received a demand for 6.74m Euros due to incorrectly weighed bananas. No wonder Berlusconi had to resign…

- Image credit: Flickr/mullica

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