Local restaurants and bars have joined a nationwide movement calling on the Biden administration to end the 25% tariffs on European food, wine and spirits.
The tariffs were put in place in 2019, after the European Union gave subsidies to the European-based company Airbus, subsidies the World Trade Organization later declared were in violation of global trade rules. In response, the United States put a 25% tariff on all European wines, in addition to spirits, cheeses, oils and other food items.
But according to the Coalition to Stop Restaurant Tariffs, an advocacy group consisting of thousands of restaurants and bars nationwide, the tariffs were a significant hit to businesses already struggling due to COVID-19.
“Tariffs hurt many industries, but they hurt the hospitality industry the most,” the group argued in a letter sent to the top four leaders in the United States Congress.
South Carolina lawmakers U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also received copies of the letter.
Local restaurants were among the signatories of the letter, including Urban Wren, Husk Barbecue, Stella’s Southern Brasserie, The Anchorage, Stella’s Bistro and Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery.
While the stated goal of the tariffs was to steer commerce toward American-made products, Greg McPhee, owner of The Anchorage, said the tariffs had next to no impact on the restaurant’s wine offerings.
“When you look at what we offer, nobody can say we’re sending all our money to Europe,” McPhee said. “We’re supporting a wide variety of regions in the United States, but we also want to showcase a well-rounded selection that pays homage to some of the great wine and cheese making elsewhere in the world.”
South Carolina restaurateur Adam Nemirow, who owns and manages the celebrated Charleston restaurants The Ordinary and FIG, said the most obvious result of the tariffs was a significant dip in European wine sales, once a boon for his restaurants’ bottom line.
“Since the pandemic, we have seen a decided shift and decline in overall wine sales, but especially European wines,” Nemirow said. “The inflated prices [from the tariffs] have turned off our most frugal and savvy clientele.”
Most frustrating for the restaurants is the seemingly unfair burden the food and beverage industry is enduring over a dispute that concerned airline companies, an industry entirely removed from the hospitality industry.
“In place for over a year, the restaurant tariffs have in no way pressured the European Union to end its aircraft subsidies, yet the United States has kept these tariffs in place through the greatest crisis our industry has ever faced,” the group stated in its letter to lawmakers. “We should no longer be part of this aircraft dispute.”
The tariffs are up for review this month, although industry analysts have expressed concern that tariff relief might not come until well into 2021 or even later, due to uncertain prospects for bilateral negotiations between the United States and the European Union.
The Biden administration has not expressed a position on the tariffs.