Philadelphia business owners gear up for new tariffs on Italian imports

Hadas Kuznits
February 07, 2020 - 1:56 pm
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese imported from Italy is displayed at a Whole Foods store on August 26, 2019 in Mill Valley, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A group of Philadelphia business owners gathered Thursday to discuss the impact of additional tariffs authorized by the World Trade Organization on Italian products imported by the United States.

Emilio Mignucci with DiBruno Bros. explains, many European exports this year, including cheese, wine and olive oil, were slapped with tariffs in retaliation for the illegal subsidy of Airbus, a competitor of American company Boeing, by a number of European countries.

"Airbus is a company in Europe that builds planes," said Mignucci. "Well, Boeing had that market. And the EU, except for Italy, they subsidized Airbus. So if Airbus was not subsidized back in 2002-2003, Boeing would still be doing the business, and their business tax would be going to the United States."

Former Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta, chair of the Italian American Food Coalition, says many businesses cannot afford another tariff increase.

"What makes it complicated is some of the products, such as wine, for example, are also produced in France. France is one of the countries that were involved. Olive oil is another example, where olive oil is also produced in Spain. Spain was also involved. So it gets complicated with the products as a whole," Longo said.

Ricardo Longo, founding partner Gran Caffe L'Aquila, explains that, even though Italy was not involved, business owners like him who rely on specialty Italian products are now feeling the pinch.

"We already have seen a price increase. Products like parmigiano reggiano, which is obviously a staple for Italian families — that's our "salt" — that's already gone up 25%," Longo said.

He says if the cost of certain items goes too high, some businesses might be forced to seek alternatives — "which we, as Italians, we call them 'fake foods.' So: parmesean from South America. Believe it or not, they're making prosciutto in China. But the reality is that the genuine food from Italy is very special. It cannot be duplicated."

DiBruno Bros.' Mignucci says another increase could come mid-February, in which case, they'll have to make some difficult business decisions.

"If they decide to raise those tariffs higher than the 25%, we're going to have to figure out how to make that work."