By editorial board • 

Bitter harvest threatens wine industry

If politics were wine, this would be a strange year for Republicans, producing a vintage that leaves an unsettling aftertaste.

But Oregon’s wine industry may find it more than unsettling. It could send them reeling like a swig of bathtub gin.

Republicans used to be the party of open markets. Left unfettered, they argued, capitalism worked its magic to create the greatest good for the greatest number.

“Over the past 200 years, not only has the argument against tariffs and trade barriers won nearly universal agreement among economists, but it has also proven itself in the real world, where we have seen free-trading nations prosper while protectionist countries fall behind,” Ronald Reagan declared in 1988.

Yet President Trump’s brain trust wants to impose a 100% tariff on European wine. Why? Because France imposed a 3% tariff on Amazon, Facebook, Google and other American cyber companies.

You don’t need to see the future to know what will happen if the tariff is imposed. Just look to the past — October, to be precise.

A 25% tariff was imposed in October on European wine with an alcohol content below 14%. It came in retaliation to subsidies from the European Union to Boeing’s chief rival, the multinational aerospace corporation Airbus.

Oregon wine importers had to pay $10,000 or more just to sell European wines to consumers. And remember, this was just a 25% tariff on some European wines. Imagine a 100% tariff on all of them. Many importers could be driven out of business.

As for Oregon’s larger wineries, few sell their wines directly. They go through distributors.

Their survival depends on the survival of their distributors. The distributors, in turn, rely on French wine sales. If a 100% tariff cripples distributors, it could lay waste to the Oregon wine industry.

John Paul, owner of Cameron Winery in Dundee, told The Oregonian the potential damage cannot be understated. “It will devastate us like nothing seen since Prohibition,” he said.

Trump conducts foreign trade like a street thug, responding to a kick in the shins with a knife in the gut. He apparently thinks that makes him a tough guy who will earn everyone’s respect. All it really does is send everyone to the emergency room.

His toxic blend of protectionism, isolationism, ethnocentrism and nationalism belong in the 1890s, not the 2020s. It’s a pity he has taken the Republican Party back down the evolutionary scale with him.

“Today protectionism is being used by some American politicians as a cheap form of nationalism,” Reagan said in the same 1988 address. And it still is.

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