WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The United States has threatened to impose "killer duties" on the import of nearly $800 million worth of European products, close to a quarter of which could include many perishable items, unless the European Union makes tariff trade concessions by year's end.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said that 100% import duties would be levied on a wide variety of imported goods to compensate the United States for higher tariffs its exporters now must pay to ship goods into Austria, Finland and Sweden since January, when those nations joined the EU.
In a Federal Register notice published late last month, USTR said that under World Trade Organization rules, the United States could raise import duties Dec. 31 should the dispute with the EU not be resolved by Dec. 1.
Analysis of the proposed "hit list" of imports shows that food products account for $188 million of the total $797 million worth of European goods that could face 100% U.S. import duties.
The implications for certain perishables departments in supermarkets could be significant, especially at the gourmet end of the spectrum; nearly all the products can be found in gourmet sections currently at many supermarkets.
The penalty duties, for example, would apply to virtually every cheese imported from the European Union, including Edam, Gouda, Emmentaler, Gruyere, Swiss, Parmesan, Provolone and any blue-veined cheese.
The U.S. "hit list" also includes peaches, as well as unspecified other fruits and nuts, fresh or preserved; and mustard. Included too are bread, pastry, cakes, biscuits, wafers, and sweetened chocolate bars, slabs, blocks, pastes and powders.
A spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute here declined to comment on the implications for food retailers should the duties be imposed. Calls to officials at the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., were not returned.
A trade analyst said that if the duties are levied, the final pared-down list of goods likely would be even more heavily weighted with perishable items than the one issued in October.
"The USTR is looking to get the maximum bang for the buck and win political support for such actions," said Stephen Lande, a former assistant USTR who now operates his own trade consulting firm, Manchester Associates, based here, and who also teaches at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.