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Trump’s US wine tariffs ‘threaten 100,000 jobs in French countryside’

French wine producers say the dramatic fall in exports to the US following the introduction of steep tariffs threaten up to 100,000 jobs in France.

Trump's US wine tariffs 'threaten 100,000 jobs in French countryside'
France is famous for its winemaking traditions. Photo: AFP

Exports of French wine to the United States have fallen by 30 percent since the US slapped a 25 percent tariff on French wine in a row over EU subsidies to Airbus.

The financial losses could have a devastating impact on France's signature sector, French winemakers warned this week. 

“We’re risking at least 100,000 jobs, directly and indirectly,” Jean-Marie Barillère, President of the National Interprofessional Committee of Wine (CNIV), told French press at the Salon d’agriculture, the annual farm show in Paris.

The US is the leading non EU export market for French winemakers in terms of value. Americans bought €1.6 billion worth of French wines and spirits in 2018.

Together with the UK and China, the US accounts for 50 percent of France’s overall wine and spirit sales.  

The French wine sector is the world's top wine exporter in terms of value and third in volume. Photo: AFP

Thomas Montagne, President of the European Confederation of Independent Winegrowers (CEVI), told The Local that 100,000 jobs lost might be “a bit exaggerated,” but that the financial losses resulting from the tax “were dire.”

“It's too early to know how exactly how many jobs will be lost, but there will be losses,” Montagne said.

Montagne himself is a winemaker from the region Luberon, close to Marseille.

The French government said the value of wine exports to the US fell by 44 percent from October to November last year, the month the taxes started to bite – a total financial loss of roughly €65 million in one month.

The plunge was sizable notable because buyers, knowing the tariffs would soon enter into effect, stocked up in the months before, Montagne explained.

“That is also why many winemakers earned more last year than usual,” he said.

Like all French presidents, Emmanuel Macron knows how to appreciate a good bottle of wine. He he is seen wine tasting at the country's annual agriculture fair. Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump's administration imposed the taxes after the World Trade Organisation faulted the EU for failing to remove illegal subsidies for the pan-European aerospace group Airbus, whose main rival is the US giant Boeing.

“We know that Airbus is important, but we won't accept becoming collateral damage in a war that doesn't concern us,” said Brice Eymard, Managing Director of the Winegrowers Inter-professional Council of Provence Wines (CIVP).

Montagne, who regards himself as a “firmly convinced European,” said that the retaliatory taxes made the whole wine producing sector in France “very angry.”

“We feel like we are being targeted because we are the government's weak spot, but politically we're not listened to,”  he said. 

French President Emmanuel Macron promised winemakers at the farm show that he would ask the EU to set up an emergency compensation fund of €300 million, which the winemakers have requested, sometime “between now and spring.

Eymard said the fund would be “important to ensure the competitiveness” of the French wine sector.

Red wine producing regions like Bordeaux were among the hardest hit by the US tariffs. Photo: AFP

Producers of cheaper wines were among those hardest hit by the taxes (a 25 percent price hike can turn an affordable bottle into a once-in-a-while luxury), but winemakers have also warned that the tariffs would delay environmental transitions inside the sector, a process demanding large investments.”

“The government has asked us to undergo pretty ambitious changes,” Eymard said.

“If producers can't afford it, they won't make them.”

Eymard said that while exports to the US had plunged since October, the sales in January seemed to have been a bit better than expected because importers had feared that the Trump administration would further increase tariffs in February.

In the end, the administration maintained levels from October, but Trump has threatened to hike wine tariffs even further unless there is a deal on taxing digital companies, which European nations want to impose on American giants like Amazon and Facebook.

READ MORE: US rows back on tariff threat on French wine and cheese… for now

Along with French wines, the existing tariffs target $7.5 billion worth of Spanish olive oil, Irish and Scottish whiskies, German industrial tools, British cashmere and a wide range of European cheeses.

One wine producing European country that had not been hit, however, was Italy – a main competitor for French wine exporters.

“It seems like the US wanted to create a division inside the EU,” Eymard said.

Regions like Eymard's own, Provence, which mostly produced rosé wine had been less affected by the tariffs than regions where red wine dominated.

“I'm more worried about those who work in Bordeaux,” Eymard said.

“The global marked for rosé wine marked is growing, and although the US represents about half of our market, we know that there are other countries to tap into.”

“We believe to have enough savings to absorb the choc from this year.”

“But who knows what the situation will look like in six months.”

 

“It seems like the US wanted to create a division inside the EU,” Eymard said.

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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