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Bourbon in firing line as EU retaliates against Trump

Spirits trade representatives have hit out at the European Union’s potential trade retaliation against Donald Trump, which could see American whiskey hit with counter-measures if the US president limits steel imports.

Trump launched an inquiry into steel imports earlier this year, and hinted that protectionist measures could be implemented to protect domestic jobs.

Speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday, European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker said Brussels could react to Washington in “days” rather than months, stating that the EU’s “mood” is “increasingly combative”, reports the Financial Times.

Officials confirmed that retaliation plans could focus on agricultural products from the United States, including American whiskey and Bourbon.

“We are already hearing that some parties are considering introducing protective measures against steel imports in the near future,” president Juncker said in a statement.

“If this does happen, the European Union will know how to respond appropriately. It would be better if we discussed the subject of over-production of steel rather than protective measures against steel imports from other parts of the world.”

US-based trade bodies have since responded to the EU’s threat, warning that such action would harm consumers and producers alike.

“US and EU spirits exporters have enjoyed duty-free access to each other’s markets for more than two decades, which has greatly benefited both spirits producers and consumers and resulted in increased exports, jobs and consumer choice,” said the Distilled Spirits Council.

“Members of the Distilled Spirits Council have made considerable investments in both the US and the EU to create complementary product portfolios comprised of both domestic and imported brands. US whiskeys are an important component of these investment strategies and brand portfolios.

“Any efforts to impose retaliatory tariffs on US spirits exports to the EU will harm consumers, producers and the US and EU spirits sectors.”

In 2016, total US spirits exports to the EU were valued at US$654 million – Bourbon accounted for 20% of that total, according to Distilled Spirits Council figures.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), added: “Kentucky Bourbon is a thriving, US$8.5 billion home-grown industry that employs nearly 17,500 people and is enjoyed in more than 125 countries.

“Global markets are increasingly important to our signature industry, and we have worked hard over the past decade to open doors, level the playing field and eliminate discriminatory tariffs and policies that would put Kentucky Bourbon at a competitive disadvantage. We will continue those efforts to promote, protect and elevate its success around the world.”

Earlier this year, the KDA reported that Bourbon distilleries had contributed an additional US$1 billion to Kentucky’s economy over the last two years alone.

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