EU Tariffs and Stateside Consequences

You may have heard about the proposed tariffs the US Trade Representative is contemplating enforcing due to a conflict between Airbus and Boeing. I'm not sure how this conflict has much to do with cheese and specialty foods, but it stands to affect those items in substantial ways.

I'm going to leave the heavy lifting on explaining the main issues to this article in Modern Farmer, but I have my own take that will deal with some statements I'm seeing across social media channels.

The cheese industry is riled up about this issue. Our business depends on global trade, and many of the products we know and love will be affected. From Parmigiano Reggiano to olive oils, a 100% price increase will be inevitable with these proposed tariffs. I see continued responses about just buying local when these tariffs are brought up. As someone who has wholeheartedly supported American artisan cheese for much of my career, I can tell you that this is not the answer. From small shops to distributors, the reliance on imported goods is a heavy one. Their lower costs provide the ability also to carry the local products that require a more minimal margin. Most EU countries subsidize their traditional foods because they understand the cultural importance of those items, and they wish to preserve those traditions for years to come. This preservation results in lower costs and the ability to be shipped at prices that smaller, local companies cannot offer.

My long-time experience at a grocery store cheese counter solidified many things for me, but one of the biggest had to do with the multi-deck versus the coffin case. The multi-deck is the stand-up case filled with slices, shreds, and more commodity block cheeses. The coffin case holds all of the fancier, smaller-batch, artisanal cheeses. As much as I wanted to focus on the coffin case alone, I knew that the grab and go, more cost-effective cheeses are what buoyed the cheeses in the coffin case. The higher margin on the commodity cheeses made it possible for me to bring in locally made products where the margins were much tighter. Smaller margins mean less money coming through the door. Less money means fewer options. Fewer options means people won't be excited by your cheese case and will stop showing up. Do you see how this train runs?

Outside of smaller margins, there are much more looming issues to be had. Our small, artisanal producers are not in a place to keep up with demand at this scale. Those competing in the commodity market would be the only ones that could fill the void. A farmstead producer, meaning that the animals that produce the milk are right there on the farm, can only make so much cheese. A cheesemaker that buys their milk will have a bit more wiggle room, but most that I know are very particular about the milk they buy. They search for the farmers that can produce milk that works best for the cheese they are making. I hope that this "BUY AMERICAN" sentiment would prefer to support smaller producers and not just the more substantial conglomerates.

Outside of cheese shops, restaurants and distributors will be significantly affected. With fewer products to ship around, the cost of transportation will skyrocket for all involved, resulting in higher prices at your favorite dining establishments. No matter if they buy local as much as they can. Olive oil, tinned fish, cheese, wine, salami, olives, and many more things that don't grow or aren't available stateside will be adversely affected. Retailitive tariffs could also make our products undesirable for exports resulting in lost sales and strained relationships.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on the terrible endgame that these tariffs would produce. As much as we like to think that we can support ourselves, the reality of the situation is much different. Our economy is a diverse system of deliciousness, and we need to keep it that way. We have until Monday the 12th of this month to make our comments known. Please, this will only take a minute, and it will help preserve small businesses near and far.

Your weekend homework is to go HERE and tell your story of how this could affect you and small businesses across the country!