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US suspends wine tariffs in EU truce

Wine lovers may find it easier to get European wines, from Bordeaux and Burgundy to Rioja, after US and EU officials agreed to pause punitive tariffs stemming from an aerospace industry trade dispute.

There were sighs of relief on both sides of the Atlantic after US trade officials suspended the added wine import tariffs on certain French, Spanish and German still wines for four months.

The EU has agreed to do the same with its tariffs imposed on US goods, as both sides seek to find a resolution to long-running trade disputes over aid for rival companies Boeing (US) and Airbus (EU).

‘What fantastic news,’ said Ben Aneff, president of the US wine trade alliance that has lobbied against the 25% import levy since its introduction in October 2019.

The new Biden-led US administration has talked of building bridges with the EU on trade.

‘The tariffs on food and wine from the EU have been devastating, doing tremendous damage to huge numbers of restaurants, retailers, importers, and distributors,’ said Aneff, who is also managing partner at Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York.

‘We thank the Biden administration for listening, and acting quickly to end the self-inflicted damage these tariffs cause.

‘We are thrilled to get back to business with our close friends and colleagues across the Atlantic.’

French export body, FEVS, also welcomed news of the four-month suspension.

It recently said the tariffs caused a €400m drop-off in the value of French wine shipments to the US in 2020.

FEVS president César Giron thanked negotiators for agreeing to the pause. ‘However, this is only the beginning of the road,’ he said.

He urged both sides to find a permanent solution and also called on the French state to help winemakers ‘bounce back quickly’.

Tariffs have made wine buyers cautious

The 25% tariffs initially targeted French, German, Spanish and English still wines at or below 14% abv.

But in January 2021 US trade officials expanded the list to include French and German still wines above 14% abv and also grape-based spirits, like Cognac.

Shaun Bishop, CEO of JJ Buckley Fine Wines in California, said the impact has been felt in the market. Consumers have switched to other wines unaffected by the extra tariffs.

In fine wine, top-end Burgundy has been hit particularly hard. ‘Grand Cru level wines took the biggest hit, reflecting the direct impact of the tariffs as a percentage of cost,’ he told Decanter.

If, as now seems possible, the tariffs are abolished, Bishop believes there may be ‘pent-up’ demand in the market.

The joint US-EU announcement on tariffs suspension came 24 hours after the US also paused Airbus-related import tariffs on UK products, including Scotch whisky. The US wine tariffs also included English still wines up to 14% abv.


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