Food industry veteran and advocate Phil Kafarakis is president of the Specialty Food Association, an umbrella organization representing 4,000 (and growing) innovative, entrepreneurial member companies in the food and beverage industry.
It’s safe to say that we eat more often than we travel on airplanes. Recently the U.S. Trade Representative proposed new tariffs to be imposed on $11 billion worth of imported goods from 28 European Union member nations. Included in the lineup of these products to be taxed at 100% of their value are aircraft and aircraft parts, beverages and foods that Americans have become accustomed to enjoying at happy hour.
Estimates are that, should these proposed tariffs against the EU go forward, costs are going to double for imported meats and cheeses. This means that if you’re out with a friend and share a nice bottle of wine and a charcuterie board, what currently costs $45 will put you over $100 after tariffs. Parmesan, Belgian ale, prosciutto, Beaujolais nouveau, jamón, chevre. Is doubling the price of these foods really an effective — or even reasonable — way to send a message to Airbus and other European airplane manufacturers?
Currently the U.S. government has active disputes with the World Trade Organization over member-imposed tariffs on U.S. goods going to China, the EU, Canada, Mexico and Turkey. The trade representative calls these tariffs “unfair,” though they were imposed in reaction to Trump’s imposition of duties on aluminum and steel “to protect the United States’ national security interests.” Apart from the mind-boggling back-and-forth of all this posturing, can the trade representative really say it’s fair to double the cost of widely available foods for Americans in order to right some large economic injustices? How have we reached the point where the aeronautics industry’s 14-year heartburn with the EU now involves specialty foods? U.S. imports/exports and agribusiness shouldn’t have to take the fall so that global trade policy advances our broader economic interests.
The administration may be angry over the financial perks the EU is providing Airbus. However, there seems to be no concern for, or even awareness of, the probable losses for U.S. agribusiness, should food be used as a weapon to solve trade gaps. Rendering the charcuterie board unaffordable is no way to level the aeronautics playing field.
Indeed, using food as ballast for getting trade programs off the ground has become a pattern. Remember the abrupt U.S. tariffs against Mexico over immigration policy? They hit avocados and threatened tequila. And those against China aimed at remedying unfair Chinese influence in steel and technology exports? They dragged in our soybean farmers. Before those tariffs, 70% of U.S.-grown soy went to the Chinese market. Now we’ve lost our soybean business to countries like Brazil, and we subsidize our own farmers to the tune of more than $12 billion to cover their losses. U.S. agriculture exports are estimated to drop by $1.9 billion this year. The majority of this loss is because we’re retaliating against unfair trade practices that have nothing to do with agriculture.
All of this seems like bullying the little guy: Food. If any industry needs protection from unfair government actions, let’s pick the one that makes human life possible, and culinary life in America the rich smorgasbord of choice it has become through global trade. Farmers and small food producers are in line to take more hits because of an administration that won’t directly face down the industries that are benefiting from unfair government interference.
Meanwhile American consumers, who are fed up with the complexity of their gadgets, don’t give a lick about the Boeing and Airbus fight. But we’ll still have to pay more for our favorite imported cheeses because of it.
Don’t use agriculture and food import/exports to address international issues. It’s ignoring the economic downward spiral that takes all of us with it when you target food.