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French wine exports sink due to US tariffs, Covid-19

Champagne and Bordeaux have been among the hardest-hit as French wine and spirits exports dropped by nearly 14% in value in 2020, show new figures.

French wine and spirits exports fell by 13.9% to just under €12.1bn in 2020, said the FEVS trade body today (11 February). Shipments fell less steeply in volume terms, by around 6%.

That means the value of orders fell back to 2016 levels, it said, citing US import tariffs and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis as key factors.

‘One year ago we said it would be a difficult year,’ said César Giron, FEVS chairman. ‘Our expectations were exceeded.’ The group did, however, say that it expected the situation to improve in 2021.

Champagne exports fell by 20.5% in 2020, to just under €2.5bn, with volume down 17%, according to FEVS figures.

Exports of Bordeaux AOC wines fell by 13.9%, to around €1.8bn, although the decline in volume terms was around 3%.

France’s premier fizz wasn’t targeted by tariffs but the regional wine body, Comité Champagne, had already warned last summer of a ‘historic drop’ in shipments – due primarily to the Covid-19 impact.

French still wines have been at the sharp end of a long-running dispute between the EU and US over aerospace industry subsidies.

A 25% import tariff was imposed on still wines at 14% abv or below from France, Spain, Germany and the UK in October 2019.

Dubbed the ‘Airbus taxes’, FEVS said the move wiped €400m off the value of American imports of French wines in 2020.

Things got worse in January 2021 when US trade officials expanded the tariffs to include French wines above 14%abv, and also grape-based spirits, like Cognac.

Giron said it was an urgent situation.

He also added, ‘It is urgent that the head of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, intervenes to solve this matter directly ‐ and without delay ‐ with the President Joe Biden.’

French exporters will meet with French prime minister Jean Castex on 15 Feburary to discuss the situation, he added.

Despite the declines in shipments, Giron paid tribute to the efforts of exporters.

‘In this extremely difficult environment, the French wine and spirits exporters found ways to preserve their positions and pave the way to the future and to the economic recovery that we all expect for 2021.’

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