Pandemic, tariffs sap the spirit out of French wine sales abroad

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U.S. tariffs and coronavirus restrictions that shut restaurants, bars and airport duty-free stores in many countries wiped 13.9% off the revenues of French wine and spirits exporters last year, industry group FEVS said.

Sales abroad of wines and spirits - France's second-biggest export after the aerospace industry - fell by 2 billion euros to 12.1 billion euros ($14.7 billion), the Federation of French Wines and Spirit Exporters (FEVS) said on Thursday.

"We expect activity to pick up (in 2021)," FEVS deputy-chairman Antoine Leccia told a news conference. "There is some light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination campaign."

Shipments to the United States, the largest overseas market for French wines and spirits and one which represents a quarter of all such exports, slumped 18%, or 670 million euros, to 3.1 billion euros in 2020.

French wine and spirits exports had jumped in 2019 as exporters booked sales ahead of the imposition of U.S. tariffs.

The U.S. government imposed additional duties on certain European Union products, including wines from France, as part of a 17-year battle over aircraft subsidies between Washington and the EU.

"The U.S. market remains the symbol of a year marked by trade tensions and the COVID-19 epidemic," FEVS said. It added that finding a solution to the conflict was urgent.

In 2021, French still wine exports - excluding spirits such as Cognac - to the United States were likely to fall 1.1 billion euros, FEVS chairman Cesar Giron forecast.

The global pandemic broke out in China on the eve of the Chinese New Year, hitting consumption during the festive period and causing exports to China to fall 15%. Sales to Singapore and Hong Kong fell 31% and 6% respectively, FEVS said.

A rise in consumption at home only partly compensated for the closure of bars, restaurants and airport shops, it said.

Global exports of champagne and cognac, by far the largest wine and spirits exports, both lost more than 20% in sales last year.

FEVS said it hoped for a better 2021, provided the pandemic eased, with some positive signs in some countries in the last quarter of 2020.

(REUTERS)