What’s that sound? No, not all those Champagne corks popping. The other sound. Yes, it’s the sound of every wine importer, distributor, and retailer in this country doing two things simultaneously: sighing with relief, and frantically putting in their orders for European wines.
Merely 48 hours after Katherine Tai was given unanimous approval by the Senate Finance Committee as the new United States Trade Representative (paving the way for full Senate approval), the Biden administration has announced a cease-fire in one of the longest-standing trade disputes between the United States and the EU, the Boeing-Airbus Large Aircraft dispute.
On the Facebook page of the US Wine Trade Alliance, a grassroots organization formed to advocate against the punishing wine tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, the sense of relief was palpable as retailers, importers, and wine producers alike celebrated a hard-fought battle.
More than a few of the people commenting on the USWTA page were frantically asking which day this announcement would take legal effect, mentioning containers of wine that were due at port today or in the next day or two.
Michel Robert Abood runs Vinotas Selections, a wine distributor in New York, and has a container arriving by boat on the 7th. For the first time in more than a year, he will not have to pay extra tariffs on the wine.
“Let’s just say I’m saving money in the high thousands, after wasting many times that last year on these ridiculous tariffs,” says Abood. “I am cautiously relieved, though I won’t relax until it’s a more permanent solution. The next step is fixing the shipping nightmare, as the lack of boats and containers has caused massive delays and pileups.”
Abood reports 8- to 12-week delays in shipping at the moment, which will be a silver lining for some (who receive their wines after the tariff suspension), but may hamper anyone who ambitiously seeks to time their imports against this 4-month window.
Nonetheless, “I am drinking Champagne for lunch and will do so again at dinner,” Abood reports.
“Next week alone our company is saving $15,276,” says Valerie Corbin, Import Operations Manager for Bonhomie Wine Imports. Bonhomie is expecting a container including, among other things, 500 cases of rosé that she says is responsible for a sizable portion of the company’s annual profits.
“The suspension of these tariffs honestly lifted a weight that’s been on our shoulders for a year,” says Corbin. “Coupled with the COVID crisis, it’s been terrifying for the survival prospects of both our company and our retail and restaurant customers. We’re honestly overwhelmed with joy.”
“We had a massive number of industry professionals working passionately on this issue, and I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said USWTA President Ben Aneff. “With this move the government is acknowledging that the tariffs in place are doing significant economic damage, and that removing them will provide significant relief to American businesses.”
Aneff believes that the four-month suspension is an incredibly positive sign that this dispute will be fully resolved in the coming months.
“The great news is that we believe they would not have chosen a four-month timeframe if the government didn’t feel they were far enough along in negotiations to settle this rapidly,” says Aneff. “Obviously we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but they wouldn’t have given themselves that specific window if they didn’t think they’d have it wrapped up by then.”
Before I got off the phone with Aneff, he made sure to say one more thing.
“I want to thank everyone around the country who spoke out on this issue, especially the press, without whose coverage we would have been at the bottom of the list when it came to trade issues,” he said. “It meant so much for customers and journalists around the country to care enough to be vocal about this issue.”
So all of you—all of us—who tweeted and wrote and called and commented: nice job. The war isn’t over yet, but the bullets have stopped flying and both parties have put down their guns. And that’s worth celebrating for sure. Now go open something good. It’s Friday after all.