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Tariffs, Pandemic Hit U.S. Imported Wine Shipments In 2020

February 12, 2021

Tariffs and pandemic-related disruptions caused bottled table wine imports to fall 8.7% in 2020, down to 70 million 9-liter cases, according to recently released data from the U.S. Commerce Department. Shipment values slipped even more last year, decreasing 21% to $3.39 billion. The decline was exacerbated by the fact that many importers elected to build up inventories late in 2019 as further tariff hikes were threatened on the category.

Shipments from all the major French wine-growing regions fell last year, according to Business France, a French government agency, with French import values down 23.5% to €1.44 billion ($1.64b). Bottled table wine shipments from France to the U.S. had recorded 10 consecutive years of volume growth prior to 2020, according to Impact Databank, driven by the surge in the rosé category over the past decade.

On a brighter note, imported wines continued to grow sharply at retail, with total volumes up 13% to 46 million cases in Nielsen channels in the 52 weeks ending December 26, generating dollar sales of $4.65 billion, up 17.3% over the year-earlier period. But as the pandemic lingers and continues to pressure the on-premise sector, the full effects of higher tariffs may finally be felt this year—not just for imported wines, but spirits as well. The French Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters said total U.S. shipments—accounting for about a quarter of all French wine and spirits exports—fell 18% to €3.1 billion ($3.8b) last year, and will be further affected this year due to new tariffs on Cognac that took effect last month.

Drinks players on both sides of the Atlantic are renewing their efforts to reduce those trade barriers, however, with the new U.S. administration seen as more sympathetic to those overtures. Bloomberg reported recently that the E.U. has made an offer to drop tariffs related to the aerospace dispute at the heart of the trade tensions if the U.S. will follow suit.—Juan Banaag

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