Late yesterday, IACC Texas spoke to Pecorino Toscano Consortium director Andrea Righini who shared his and his consortium members’ concerns about the newly imposed U.S tariffs on Italian cheese — including Pecorino.
What’s the consortium’s current strategy for dealing with the new tariffs?
We’re hoping that the United States will decide not to apply [the new tariffs].
This would be the best-case scenario for us because [the tariffs] would compromise a good part of our exports.
How are the tariffs going to affect consortium members?
The United States is our number-one market for exports. Last year, in terms of value, our exports were €1.5 million. But this year we’ve seen an increase in sales of 10-15 percent. And so we’re getting close to €2 million in 2019.
[The U.S.] has always been an important market and in recent years, even more so.
[The tariffs] would compromise not only the American market but also the Italian market.
If the American market is blocked, we would be stuck with a lot of unsold product — not just us but also Pecorino Romano [producers].
And this could have an effect on the Italian market because of the quantity of surplus product and the effect it would have on the price of [sheep’s] milk. All of these things are connected to one another. It’s not just a matter of how much product you sell. It’s going to affect a lot people who work every day making Pecorino. The raw material as well as the final product [will be affected].
The consortium has been engaged in a robust marketing campaign in the U.S. What affect will the tariffs have on your current efforts to raise the visibility of your products in the American market?
Currently we have a three-year plan in place for marketing in Tuscany and in the U.S.
It’s important for us to retain the value of our products — tariffs or no tariffs.
So the tariffs could really complicate this because we’ll have to see if American consumers are willing to pay more for the product.
We feel it’s important to focus on the quality of the product and the guarantee that you get with a PDO [protected designation of origin] product.
It will be a question of whether or not American consumers recognize the value of the product.
What resources do you have in dealing with the challenges posed by the new tariffs?
I spent nearly the whole day today on the phone [with consortium members]. Everyone is worried as we try to understand what’s definitely going to happen and what’s still uncertain. At this point, we’re counting on what the Italian government can do to persuade the American government [not to implement the tariffs]. We need to remember that these sanctions are the result of dealings that have nothing to do with Italy. [If the tariffs were imposed] the consortium would pay for damages it didn’t cause.
We are leaving tomorrow [Friday] for the Anuga [food industry trade fair in Cologne, Germany] where we’ll meet with government representatives and U.S. importers to discuss the situation.
Our U.S. importers are going to feel the pain as well. And we’ll be discussing how we can deal with this situation with them and Italian government representatives. Our producers are ready to do whatever they can. But we can’t diminish the value of our products. We can look at discounts but 25 percent [in import duties] is a lot.