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How Trump’s tariffs are threatening Italy’s Parmesan cheese makers

Cheese makers plan to protest at US military bases around Italy if Donald Trump imposes crippling sanctions that would cost the Italian food industry billions.

How Trump's tariffs are threatening Italy's Parmesan cheese makers
Photos: AFP

Donald Trump’s tariffs war continues to send shockwaves through EU economies, Italy’s food industry being the latest chip on the negotiating table. 

The economic consequences of the ongoing commercial feud between the US and the EU – initially caused by a disagreement over EU subsidies given to Airbus – have become alarmingly clearer to Italian food producers.

Italian wines, citrus fruits and fruit juices would all be badly hit, amounting to a total of $5 to $10 billion in losses according to Italian food consortiums.

Italy’s internationally renowned Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses (both strong-tasting, hard Parmesan cheeses) will be one of the most affected industries.

In 2018, 10,000 tonnes of Parmesan cheese were exported overseas. With the US’s punitive taxes, already approved by the World Trade Organization, cheese industry leaders estimate consumption in the US will drop by 80 to 90 percent.

That's largely because tariffs of up to 100 percent on the value of food products exported to the US could be slapped on as early as next October.

Industry leaders expect a total of 400,000 wheels of Parmesan cheese, which weigh on average 38kg (84lb) each, will not be sold to the US as a result.

“We’re ready to protest in front of the numerous American military bases in Italy in Montichiari, Ghedi, Longare and Vicenza to protest the WTO’s decision,” Stefano Berni, general manager of the Grana Padano Consortium, said in a statement.

“The Italian cheese crisis would be followed closely by an emergency situation in other Italian agri-food sectors such as wine, citrus fruits, grapes and jams,” Lorenzo Bazzana, manager of Italy’s National Farmers’ Confederation Coldiretti, told online daily Linkiesta.

Bazzana believes the Airbus-Boeing feud is an excuse to hide the real reason for the tariffs: the US food industry’s forgery of Italian food products and its intent to flood the market with them without competition.

In the case of Parmesan, often referred to in Italy as the 'King of Cheeses', the global fake agro-food industry sold 200,000 tonnes of the stuff outside of the EU in 2018, 15 times more than the authentic Italian produce with the “protected designation of origin” label.

“What with US tariffs and Brexit, we must do everything possible to avoid a perfect storm that'll damage the entire Italian agri-food industry,” Massimiliano Giansanti, president of agricultural confederation Confagricoltura, is quoted as saying in business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

“At this point we must ask our government to urgently intervene.”

The US and EU's complicated trade spat

For more than 14 years, Washington and Brussels have accused each other of unfairly subsidising Boeing and Airbus, respectively, in a tit-for-tat dispute.

The WTO ruled in March 2012 that billions of dollars of subsidies to Boeing were illegal and notified the United States to end them.

The EU was also reprimanded by the WTO more recently, leading US President Donald Trump's administration (who have made punitive tariffs something of a signature move) to ask the trade body what the maximum amount of tariffs they could impose on the EU was. 

The EU and the US have been working to set in motion a limited trade pact as part of a truce agreed in July when Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged no new tariffs following those imposed on steel and aluminum.

Member comments

  1. “”We’re ready to protest in front of the numerous American military bases in Italy in Montichiari, Ghedi, Longare and Vicenza to protest the WTO’s decision,” Stefano Berni, general manager of the Grana Padano Consortium, said in a statement.”

    The WTO is a neutral organisation. Stefano needs to protest outside the EU at its unfair tactics and tariffs on trade. Airbus is subsidised because no doubt somebody at the EU has had their pocket lined. They’ll sacrifice the little people in their own interests.

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FOOD & DRINK

Sagra: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

If you're visiting Italy in autumn, don't miss the many local food and drinks fairs held around the country. Here are some to visit this October.

Sagra: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

One of the best things about visiting Italy in the autumn is having the opportunity to attend a sagra, a type of harvest festival or fair centred around one particular food or drink item local to the town hosting it.

sagra has a fairly broad definition: it could last for several weeks or one day, and might consist of anything from a raucous celebration with music and dancing to a lone food stall with a few wooden benches. It will usually be hosted in a field or a piazza, and entry is free.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

What all sagre have in common is the focus on eating and drinking fresh local produce, and the assurance that you won’t leave unsated.

Now, the good news is that October is by far the month with the most sagre, with a wealth of events taking place throughout the country that are worth seeking out if you’re in the area. So, here are some of the best sagre happening across Italy this month.

Campania 

Sagra della Castagna (chestnut festival), 7th-16th October in Calvanico, Salerno.  

Festa della Mela Annurca (‘annurca‘ apple festival), 28th-29th October in Valle di Maddaloni, Caserta.

Sagra del Cinghiale (boar festival), every Friday of the month in Dugenta, Benevento.

Emilia Romagna

Sagra della Salamina da Sugo (salami festival), 5th-9th October in Poggio Renatico, Ferrara.

Sagra del Vino Romagnolo (Romagna’s wine festival), 6th-9th October in Cotignola, Ravenna.

Sagra del Tartufo (truffle festival), 7th-9th October in Bondeno, Ferrara.

Sagra dell’Anguilla (eel festival), first three weekends of the month in Comacchio, Ferrara.

Lazio

Sagra dell’Uva Cesanese del Piglio (‘Cesanese‘ grapes festival), 30th September-2nd October in Piglio, Frosinone.

Enorvinio (wine festival), 2nd October in Orvinio, Rieti.

Castelli di Cioccolato (chocolate castles festival), 7th-9th October, Marino, Rome.

Sagra delle Tacchie ai Funghi Porcini (‘tacchie‘ pasta and porcini mushroom festival), first two weekends of the month in Bellegra, Rome.

A street seller prepares roasted chestnuts in Rome.

Roasted chestnuts are a staple of Italy’s October ‘sagre’. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Lombardy

Castagnata a Caglio (chestnut festival), 2nd-9th October in Caglio, Como.

Festival della Mostarda (mustard festival), 15th October-30th November in Cremona.

Fasulin de l’Oc con le Cudeghe (beans and pork rind festival), 29th-31st October in Pizzighettone, Cremona.

Sicily

Sagra delle Pesche (peach festival), 1st-2nd October in Leonforte, Enna.

Festa della Nocciola (hazelnut festival), 5th-6th October in Novara di Sicilia, Messina.

Funghi Fest (Mushroom festival), 21st-23rd October in Castelbuono, Palermo.

Piedmont

Sagra della Castagna (chestnut festival), 2nd October in Mathi, Turin.

Sagra del Ciapinabò (Jerusalem artichoke festival), 8th-9th October in Carignano, Turin.

Cioccolato nel Monferrato (chocolate festival), 16th October in Altavilla Monferrato, Alessandria.

Chocolate fair in Milan, Italy.

A number of chocolate festivals take place up and down the boot in October. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Tuscany

Sagra del Fungo Amiatino (‘amiatino‘ mushroom festival), 7th-9th, 15th-16th October in Bagnolo, Grosseto.

Sagra delle Frugiate (roasted chestnuts festivals), 9th and 16th October in Pescia, Pistoia.

Boccaccesca (local food festival), 14th-16th October in Certaldo, Florence.

Sagra del Tordo (local food festival), 29th-30th October in Montalcino, Siena.

Puglia

Sagra del Calzone (calzone festival), 14th-16th October in Acquaviva delle Fonti, Bari.

Veneto

Festa del Baccalà (cod festival), 30th September-2nd October and 7th-9th October in Montegalda, Vicenza.

Festa delle Giuggiole (jujubes festival), 2nd and 9th October in Arquà Petrarca, Padua.

Mele a Mel (apple festival), 7th-9th October in Mel, Belluno.

Festa della Patata (potato festival), all Sundays of the month in Tonezza del Cimone, Vicenza.

Umbria

Primi d’Italia (national first courses festival), 29th September-2nd October in Foligno.

This list is not exhaustive. Did we miss out your favourite October sagra? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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