Your Favorite French Wine Could Soon Double In Price

Friday, January 10th 2020, 9:34 am
By: CBS News

  • The Trump administration's proposed 100% tariff on European wine imports could double the cost to U.S. consumers for imported wines. 
  • Consumers have until January 13 to comment on the proposed tariffs with the U.S. Trade Representative.
  • The tariffs will be passed onto consumers and U.S. businesses such as restaurants, importers and wine shops.

Wine aficionados may want to stock up on their favorite French wines, given the Trump administration's proposal to levy a tariff of up to 100% on European wine imports. The measure is being called "catastrophic" by wine importers and other businesses that rely on selling wine imports to U.S. consumers.

The tariff, which doesn't have a timeline for implementation, is currently under review, with an open comment period that closes on January 13. The measure has drawn more than 4,300 comments through Friday morning, with wine importers, retailers, restaurateurs and consumers objecting to the proposed tariff. Some, like Robert Maxon of Varmax Liquor Pantry, said the tariff would cause them to lay off workers. 

The proposed 100% tariff comes after the U.S. slapped a 25% tariff last fall on a record $7.5 trillion worth of European Union goods in retaliation for what the World Trade Organization ruled was illegal European subsidies to French aircraft maker Airbus. In December, the Trump administration proposed the 100% tariff in retaliation for a French tax on U.S. tech companies like Google. 

Aside from wine, other European imports that could face a new tariff of up to 100% include cheeses like Stilton and Parmesan, Italian olive oil, Kerrygold butter and Scotch whisky, among other products.

But it will be American consumers and businesses that pay the price, said Food & Wine magazine's executive wine editor, Ray Isle. "Those tariffs hit when those wines land at the U.S. port," Isle told CBSN. "You are looking at potentially doubling the price of all the wines" imported from Europe.

In other words, that $30 bottle of champagne could set you back by $60, if the tariffs move forward. (It's possible the administration could delay any new trade taxes as it negotiates with France.)

To be sure, wine imports contribute about 35% of the wine sales in the U.S., including wines from Europe, South American, Australia and other countries, Isle added. But it would be difficult for domestic vintners to produce enough wine to replace those imports, at least in the short term, because it would require wine producers to plant more vines and expand production, he said.

And wine aficionados may not want to switch to domestic varieties, Isle added. "Californian chardonnay isn't the same as white burgundy," he noted. "It's like saying you like country music but we won't have it anymore — why don't you listen to jazz?"

Small businesses will bear the brunt of the tariffs, wrote Joshua Adler, the owner of Paris Wine Co., an exporter based in Paris, in a comment to the U.S. Trade Representative.

"Higher tariffs on French wines would be catastrophic to the small businesses that make up the restaurant industry," he wrote. "Valued at $825 billion in 2019, the restaurant industry is composed primarily of small businesses: for example, 9 in 10 restaurants are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees."

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