[image-1] It was standing room only at goat.sheep.cow.north on Monday afternoon. U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham took the floor to listen as local wine distributors, restaurateurs, and others in the hospitality industry spoke about the impact the proposed European wine tariffs will have on their businesses and on the Charleston community as a whole. The tariffs, which are being proposed as part of the Large Civil Aircraft Dispute between the U.S. and EU, would effect a long list of European goods, and are under consideration for the “imposition of additional duties of up to 100 percent.”
Harry Root, co-founder of local wine distributor Grassroots Wine, introduced the congressman. “It’s really important to note that this is non partisan — this is about jobs and South Carolina health and the health of the hospitality and tourism community,” Root said.
Root, along with Cunningham, Upstate Congressman William Timmons, other legislators, and distributors from around the country started Save American Wine Jobs as a response to these proposed tariffs, which Root says will severely damage his small business and others like it. Root is traveling to D.C. this evening to solicit the Trade Subcommittee of House Ways and Means to immediately schedule a hearing on the subject when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday.
Addressing a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd shortly after lunch, Cunningham said, “I want to hear your stories so I can take them up to D.C. to advocate effectively on your behalf.”
“We all know how much tourism plays a part in our economy, not only in the Lowcountry but in the state. I want to say thank you, thank you for doing what you do you, for making us proud, thank you for the hard work,” he said.
Cunningham also reiterated that this issue is not partisan, “we will continue to work with this administration … we have Democrats, Republicans, Independents coming to the table to agree on common sense, pragmatic solutions.”
[image-3] Root spoke on behalf of the wine distributors, asking Cunningham, “Do you understand how prohibitive 100 percent tariffs are? Do you understand how far-reaching this is?”
Cunningham said he does understand, and likened the tariffs to something “worse than a hurricane.”
“Businesses can bounce back after the plywood is taken down,” said Cunningham. “You are talking about products from Europe that will literally close doors, not just for businesses but employees.”
Restaurateur Mike Lata discussed the pressure restaurants already face with labor stretched thin and products getting increasingly expensive. “Tariffs like this chip away at our profit — it’s difficult to stay competitive and hire the people you need and deliver the expectation of what people expect when they come to the Charleston market.” He points to his restaurant FIG, which won the James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Program in 2018; “These tariffs whitewash our expression as restaurateurs, we won’t have the same national competitiveness, and Charleston really relies on the the restaurant community and hospitality industry to draw tourism.”
Kate Herron, a Grassroots wine sales rep and longtime server, expressed that with these tariffs, and with European wine essentially being erased from wine menus, servers making that $2.13 an hour will feel the effects. “You’re basically a sales person, the more you sell the more you make. When you have little to sell, it threatens the ability to survive. The proposed tariffs will make European wine unattainable to the average restaurant, this has a ripple effect.”
Charleston Wine + Food executive director Gillian Zettler brought up the charm of the city, and how the 15-year-old fest thrives because of Charleston’s unique personality.
“Folks in other markets are always impressed with the size of our city, and that we are able to perform at such an international level … it would be a shame to be shortsighted and not have the vibrancy on a national and international level.”
Root reminded the crowd that anyone who wants to throw their voice into the ring can do so by writing directly to U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer and their congressman— there are guidelines on the Save American Wine Jobs site. Public comments are closed Mon. Jan. 13.
“This is going to effect the student working through college,” said Herron. “It will effect the ever under-appreciated drivers and dishwashers and bussers. These tariffs will hurt small American middle class families, business owners, and employees — the exact opposite of the large corporations the tariffs are being proposed to protect.”