America's Whiskey Tariff Nightmare Is Finally Over

For nearly four years, bourbon makers have been caught up in a trade dispute over steel and aluminum prices.

A person grabs a bottle of whiskey from a liquor store shelf
Photo: Erik Witsoe / EyeEm / Getty Images

Joe Biden has been President for over a year now, however, for American whiskey makers, one vestige of the Trump administration had continued to linger: British bourbon tariffs. But this week, U.S. spirits producers can finally raise a glass — a deal to end this pricey trade barrier was finally agreed upon.

To recap, the drama began in 2018 when the Trump administration placed tariffs on imports of both steel and aluminum. The European Union, which at the time included the United Kingdom, responded with retaliatory tariffs, and as often is the case, specifically singled out very "American" products to help hammer the point home, including bourbon — a move which was estimated to have cost the U.S. whiskey industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

In November, E.U. and U.S. officials finally negotiated a deal ending this trade dispute. But since the U.K. was now no longer in the EU, Brits were left to sort out an agreement on their own.

Despite perhaps taking longer than expected, that deal was finally announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce yesterday — an agreement which the department explained will "also lift retaliatory tariffs on over $500 million worth of U.S. exports to the U.K., including distilled spirits, various agriculture products and consumer goods."

"Since taking office, President Biden has made it a top priority to rebuild our relationships with our allies and partners around," stated Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo. "By allowing for a flow of duty-free steel and aluminum from the U.K., we further ease the gap between supply and demand for these products in the United States. And by removing the U.K.'s retaliatory tariffs, we reopen the British market to beloved American products."

Needless to say, spirits industry groups applauded the results. "Distillers throughout the United States are cheering the end of this long tariff nightmare," said Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council. "From day one, the Biden administration made it a priority to reset the relationship with the EU and UK, two of our most important allies and trading partners."

Beyond Trump's steel tariffs, the Biden administration has also cut deals to alleviate issues stemming from a trade dispute between the U.S. and E.U./U.K. over respective subsidies to Boeing and Airbus which had resulted in tariffs on other U.S. spirits such as rum and vodka. Now, with this latest U.K. deal, booze-related tariff concerns stemming from the Trump administration would appear to finally be a thing of the past.

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