Over a dozen Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on one thing: Excessive tariffs on wine, cheese, and whisky aren't helping anybody.

By Jelisa Castrodale
August 10, 2020
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A group of more than a dozen U.S. senators have written a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office (USTR), asking the agency to remove the 25 percent tariffs on food, wine, and spirits imported from Europe.

According to Reuters, which has reportedly seen the text of the letter, the senators are making this request on behalf of "restaurants, retailers, grocers, importers and distributors” who are experiencing economic complications due both to the increased cost of those items—which include everything from salami and cheeses to coffee, wine, and Scotch whisky—and the decreased demand for those products due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As a result, they write, importers and distributors are stuck with "months’ worth of product, much of it perishable."

U.S. Proposes Tariffs On EU Products Such As Cheese, Olive Oil And Wine
Credit: Gary Friedman / Contributor/Getty Images

The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of seven Republicans and six Democrats, including Corey Booker (D-NJ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).

It's also the second time in as many months that legislators have urged the USTR to remove these tariffs; in late July, more than 160 members of Congress recommended that the USTR remove the 25 percent tariffs on cordials, whisky, and wine imported from the European Union. "We particularly are concerned that the economic situation in our country has changed dramatically since additional duties in relation to this case were imposed in October 2019. Tens of millions of Americans are now out of work and businesses across America have been devastated,” they wrote at the time.

"We believe it is possible for our strategy to maintain maximum pressure on the EU to remove its subsidies case while avoiding harm to American workers, consumers, and small businesses to the greatest extent possible."

Unfortunately, the USTR might be moving in the opposite direction: it has proposed increasing the tariffs from 25 percent to an eye-watering 100 percent when it reevaluates those tariffs later this month. The 100 percent tariffs are being considered for a wide variety of consumer products, including wine from all EU member countries (except, apparently, sparkling wines from France).

"[A]t a time when the hospitality industry is fighting for its life, any additional tariffs will have catastrophic and compounding effects for years to come—a knockout blow for many,” Michelle Korsmo, the president of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, told the Washington Post.

"For every European winery that this attempts to negatively influence, it's a negative for free American companies that bear the burden of this tariff," said Harry Root, the owner of Grassroots Wine, said. "The 100 percent tariffs that they're proposing are effectively prohibition from any wines in the E.U. That means we're going to have Italian restaurants with no Italian wine, French restaurants with no French wine and Spanish restaurants with no Spanish wine."

USTR ambassador Robert Lighthizer hasn't exactly been sympathetic to the plight of restaurants, importers, and distributors, essentially suggesting that we should just be drinking U.S. wines instead. "I understand there are people that import wine and don’t like the tariffs," he said during a June policy hearing. "On the other hand, many members of this committee and in Congress generally come from areas that have, in my judgment, the best wine in the world and there’s no tariff on any of it.”

The USTR is expected to announce its decision regarding any changes to the existing tariffs by mid-August.