BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The blue and gold banner of the European Union is emblazoned over the front door of the Euro City grocery. Inside, another blue and gold symbol dominates the display of fresh fruit -- a smiling Miss Chiquita.
In this little store across the street from EU headquarters and in supermarkets around Europe, Chiquita means bananas.
But Europe's favorite banana is under attack.
Chiquita, the Cincinnati-based giant, says it has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by the European Union's system of tariffs and quotas, which restrict the sales of bananas marketed by U.S. companies.
While Chiquita controls about 20 percent of the EU's 15-nation market, its share -- and profit -- have plunged since the rules were introduced in 1993.
"What's brought us to this point is the European Union regime and its devastating impact," said Steven G. Warshaw, Chiquita's president and chief operating officer.
The trans-Atlantic trade battle began when the Europeans introduced import controls to protect their own banana growers in the Canary Islands, Madeira and French West Indies, and traditional suppliers in African and Caribbean nations.
The rules more than halved Chiquita's market share in the European Union, where the company used to draw more than half of its profits, Warshaw said in a telephone interview.
The company may have to file for bankruptcy protection and says it cannot meet payments on its $862 million of debt. It cites figures from the World Trade Organization, the world's top rule-making body for trade, putting total company damages over seven years at $1.3 billion.
The dispute has poisoned relations between the European Union and the United States for almost a decade.
The U.S. government has vigorously supported Chiquita, accusing the EU of restricting free trade by unfairly protecting its own producers and importers and pushing up prices for consumers.
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