The U.S. typically grants foreign countries "most favored nation" trading status unless they're run by man-eating Communists. This signifies that they have normal economic relations with the world's greatest financial power and are subject to the same tariffs and legal treatment as peers when their goods enter the country. After its unpopular pursuit of the Iraq war, however, not to mention high-profile corporate scandals ranging from Martha Stewart to Tyco ( TYC), the U.S. now appears to be gaining the status of "least favored nation" around the world as trading partners re-envision their relationships through the prism of animus and distrust rather than amity. The most recent example came last week when the European Union slapped a record
antitrust fine against Microsoft ( MSFT), one of America's leading technology companies, for reasons that seem animated as much by anger and suspicion as by a strict reading of law. Yet other examples of the international turn of the screw are becoming apparent, and that should worry investors in U.S. multinational-branded manufacturers and retailers such as Coca-Cola ( KO), Ford ( F) and Starbucks ( SBUX).