Local Cheese Distributor’s Petition to Fight Proposed Tariff on Imports

We are part of The Trust Project

That serving of delicious Havarti cheese from Denmark or Parmesan from Italy may become a lot more expensive by next month.

Distributors and retailers throughout the United States, including those in the local area, are bracing for the impacts of a potential 100 percent tariff on imported cheeses that could be slapped on most of the products by the United States by the middle of October.

The under-the-radar levy is being threatened in response to a longstanding dispute between the European aerospace giant Airbus and Boeing, the American manufacturer of airplanes. Boeing has accused Airbus of selling their airplanes at below cost, with subsidies provided by governments in the European Union.

Joseph Gellert, the president and owner of the Armonk-based cheese distributor World’s Best Cheeses, said that the United States has threatened the tariff on a variety of imported items such as cheese, jam and pasta in addition to some non-food products from countries in the European Economic Community, also referred to as the common market.

Some countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Australia are not part of the common market, although Gellert estimated that 90 percent of his imported product would be subject to the tariff. He said roughly half of what he distributes to supermarkets such as DeCicco’s and Whole Foods and smaller stores throughout the region is imported.

In response, Gellert recently launched an online petition drive to bring the issue to the attention of the public and highlight to the Trump Administration how destructive the tariffs would be to American businesses and consumers if they are enacted.

“It’s really hard to measure,” Gellert said of the impact. “We are loading up some extra inventory and we shall see. It’s effect on things, it’s hard to measure.”

A typical imported cheese, which sells for $15 to $30 a pound, might increase to $25 to $50, he said. It is not known how quickly the price would jump, because it’s unknown how much product Gellert and others can stock up and what profit margin businesses can subsist on.

Another possibility is that the United States could only impose the tariff on countries that manufacture the Airbus planes.

Regardless, any impact would be negative. In a statement put out by the Cheese Importers Association of America, the organization said the damage to not just the cheese industry but the U.S. food industry would be immense. The CIAA estimated that it could put at risk at least 20,000 American jobs

The proposed tariffs on EU cheese and dairy products due to a dispute in the aerospace industry between Airbus and Boeing should be resolved in that sector, not placed on the backs of industries that have nothing to do with airline manufacturing, the CIAA statement read. The organization added that they hope cooler heads within the White House will prevail.

“If there is a (precedent) that has been set with the current administration I think that we as cheese importers must realize that this is a real threat to our industry and if 100 percent tariffs are imposed that they do not last too long or many small- to medium-size businesses will no longer be able to stay in business,” the CIAA stated.

Ivy Ronquillo, owner of The Second Mouse in Pleasantville, said she’ll probably stock up a little but doesn’t have the storage space or the money to double, triple or quadruple her purchases of certain products.

She called the retailers like herself and the distributors “a human shield” in a fight between corporations and the federal government. Ironically, most of the imported cheeses arrive by boat, not airplane, Ronquillo said.

For some people, certain items could become unaffordable, if they would be found at all, she said.

“The average consumer is not going to notice it immediately but they will at the holidays when people are buying more specialty food items,” said Ronquillo, who noted that about 35 percent of her product is imported. “Havarti, a standard sandwich cheese, it’s going to double in price in the supermarket. It’s going to double in price here.”

Gellert said supermarkets that pre-package their cheeses may be able to cut their portions to keep the prices from rising as quickly. For example, a four-ounce package of a certain cheese could be cut to three ounces.

“So when you pick it up and see the price, if it’s one-third smaller. Stores will have to do that because regular size they’ll just like faint,” Gellert said. “It would be impossible.”

He said he hopes to collect as many signatures on the petition in the next few weeks to send on to congressional representatives and the White House.

While American farmers will look to fill in the gap, Ronquillo said there’s no substitute for many of the foreign cheeses.

“The American farmers will do their best to compensate but not without significant pain,” she said.




We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.