Global View: Bye to Brie and BMW?

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Are you partial to cheese that flows? Brie, and, even better, Camembert, at its best when pungent, with a whiff of the bin to which it will soon have to be sent if you don’t eat it?

Perhaps that sort of French flowing is too much for you. How about some Germanic flowing, of steel panels, clinical, hygienic — no whiff of bin here — as in the Z3, with some crisp lines thrown in, too, though not the shark prow that BMWs used to have. (Aerodynamics, more than anything, must have put paid to that, though it was rather frightening.) Expensive cars, of course, but the best, and tempting if you have money to spare.


Or perhaps not tempting at all, not now, even for those still with money to spare, because of the war, and all that went before.

A survey conducted March 21-24 by Wirthlin Worldwide, a research and consulting company, and Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, and released this week found that many Americans are now much less willing to buy French or German or Canadian products.

France, whose President Jacques Chirac made it plain that he would veto a United Nations resolution that paved the way to war in Iraq, is the most marked target of American ire.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they are “much” or “somewhat” less favorable toward French companies and 29 percent said they are more likely to “boycott or avoid” purchasing French products.

The French are under fire for not going along with the war on Iraq. So are the Germans, but the fire on them is less intense. Fifty-two percent of Americans said they are “much” or “somewhat” less favorable toward German companies and their products, and 19 percent said they are more likely to “boycott or avoid” purchasing German products.

How about the Canadians? Forty-nine percent of Americans said they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to try a substitute for a Canadian product. The maple syrup is not going to be passed.

So, it’s clear. The advertisers, at least, will get the message. This is not the time for a jolly ad with a man in a beret to sell French cheese, or for Munich bierfest-type beer advertisements. They must be worried at Heineken. Heineken! But isn’t that Dutch?

Yes, Heineken is one of the top 10 German products identified by American consumers in the survey, indicating that their fire against foreign products may be a little indiscriminate — though, of course, the Dutch, too, were against the war, so perhaps the aim is not so awry.

The question of identification of the enemy brings us into intriguing fresh territory. Almost one-third of American consumers want to boycott French products, according to the survey, but a quarter of those surveyed were unable “to name, unaided, a French brand, company or commodity in the U.S. market.”

(French fries, of course, are a decoy put out by the enemy. They should be eaten but renamed Freedom fries, as has happened in the canteens of the U.S. Congress.)

The Germans, on the other hand, have a problem: They are more identifiable. Becks, BMW, Mercedes, everyone knows they are German, don’t they? (Just like Heineken.) Or, at least, almost everyone. “Twice as many Americans can name German brands as can name French brands,” said Dee Allsop, of Wirthlin Worldwide, and therefore German companies are more at risk.

There is another side to this, of course. The loyal allies in the war, the Brits — one is writing — stand to gain. Sixty percent of Americans said they are “much more,” or “somewhat more,” favorable toward companies and products from Great Britain, the survey tells us. So it’s English cheddar — my mother could never understand why I didn’t like it — instead of Camembert.

Some Americans may think, too, that there is another benefit: for American companies. If foreign products, other than British ones, have less appeal, then domestic sales of U.S. companies might be higher: a Chevy rather than a BMW.

But something else needs to be taken into account, the other side of things: the rejection by Europe and, indeed, much of the world of the war and the U.S. role in it.

The survey does not look at that, and we do not have one that does to hand. But we have evidence of attempts to organize a boycott of American products. In the Islamic world the calls for boycotts have been in place for a long time. A search on the Google search engine under “boycott American products” found 117,000 page hits.

The European front in this war is new. A German-based site of a group called Consumers Against War gives a list of companies whose products should be boycotted: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, General Electric, Intel, Disney, McDonald’s, Philip Morris, General Motors, Ford, Levi’s, American Express, Heinz, etc., etc.

How much easier than thinking up a French brand! Microsoft’s software is in about 90 percent of the world’s computers; Coca-Cola has somehow found its way to the corner shop of every corner in the world; and Levi jeans are on an exceedingly large number of backsides in the world. American brands are bigger and stronger and more international than those of any other country — and there are so many of them. Corporate America presents a huge target.

And it is because of that Americans, more than anyone, should fear this outbreak of antagonism, the divide that has opened up between the United States and many other countries.

We have sought some humor in this topic but fundamentally it is troubling. Trade, much decried, is a positive force, one that brings the best of cheeses (in this author’s view) to the United States as well as the best of cars, while taking around the world Microsoft’s software, Intel’s chips and McDonald’s hamburgers — which, when I last bit into one, seemed to have the plastic covering still attached. It hadn’t. But some people like them, and want them.

Trade not only takes to people the products they want, it creates jobs and wealth. Nationalism and international hostility are going to do nothing but economic harm.

The world seems more divided than since the great division of the Cold War was brought to an end. The terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, could never have guessed how successful they were going to be.

”’Global View is a weekly column in which our economics correspondent reflects on issues of importance for the global economy. Comments to:”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.