Bicycles and Wine Tariffs

Bicycles and Wine Tariffs

Jeffrey Frankel has a must read blog over at Econbrowser:

The “bicycle theory” used to be a metaphor for international trade policy. Just as standing still on a bicycle is not an option — one has to keep moving forward or else the bike will fall over – so it was said that international trade negotiators must continue to engage in successive rounds of liberalization, or else the open global trading system would be pulled down by protectionist interests. I don’t know if the theory was ever right. (And, to be honest, I don’t entirely understand why forward movement keeps a bicycle from falling over.) But if we had stood still on trade policy over the last three years we would be a lot better off than where we are now.

It may be cold in New York City but after all that Thanksgiving wine, maybe a bicycle ride is in order. Just after that infamous phone call with the President of Ukraine, Trump opined on trade policy regarding wine:

Mr Trump, who is teetotal, said: “I’ve always liked American wines better than French wines. Even though I don’t drink wine. I just like the way they look.” The US is the world’s largest consumer of wine and the largest import market, with France consistently among the top origin countries for imported wine.

He was angry over something called the digital sales tax but here is a more related reason for this weird tweet:

High tariff rates constitute the single most restrictive barrier to U.S. wine exports. According to the World Bank, the average simple-applied import tariff including all products worldwide in 2015 is 6.8%; without including the preferential rates the average is 30.4%. Virtually all U.S. wine exports to the major markets, other than Canada, face tariffs that are double or triple those rates. For example, the EU import tariff per 750 bottle can range from $0.11 to 0.29, depending on the type alcoholic content of the wine. Japan’s tariff is 15% by value of the product. U.S. exports to India are hindered by a 150% tariff set on the value of the wine. By comparison, the U.S. import tariff on a 750 ml bottle is $0.05 for still wine and $0.14 for sparkling wine. Over the last 30 years of multilateral wine negotiations through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now the WTO), the U.S. import tariff for wine shrank from 31.5 cents to 6.3 cents per liter. Unfortunately, other countries’ wine tariffs only slightly decreased, if at all. For several emerging markets those rates are still high with China at 14%, Russia at 12.5%, Brazil at 20%, Vietnam at 50% and India at 150%. Wine Institute takes the position that trading partners must first reduce their tariff rates for all wine products (e.g., HTS Codes 2204, 2205 and 2206) to the current U.S. tariff levels before the U.S. further reduces its rates. This policy is based on decades of international trade negotiations that have materially aided the wine industries of other countries and harmed the U.S. industry. The U.S., which has some of the lowest wine tariffs of any major wine producing country, lowered its wine tariffs to a very low rate in the Uruguay Round while other countries maintained much higher tariff rates. This disparity in tariffs has directly resulted in a significant loss of U.S. market share and a negative balance of trade for U.S. wineries that continues to increase.

The Wine Institute discussion continues by noting EU subsidies for European wine. One might presume this would be an excuse for Trump’s proposal of wine tariffs but fortunately the Wine Institute would rather get back on that bicycle.