Following up on a Feb. 6 rally of Italian food importers at his Gran Caffe’ l’Aquila, Riccardo Longo says he’s delighted by last weekend’s statement from Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio that the U.S. has decided not to expand import taxes to a broad range of Italian foods.
Since last year, those tariffs have added 25 percent to the price of genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Scotch whiskey, Spanish olives and French wine.
The United States had threatened to raise those taxes and also expand them to include Italian wine and prosciutto, as well as other Italian hams, crostini, and more. But the Italians say the Americans have now agreed to back off.
“Great news,” Longo told me in an e-mail. “We were all holding our breath for the Feb. 18 deadline.”
He sent articles in English and Italian confirming Di Maio’s statements, elaborated by other officials in Italy’s coalition government. “For now they have decided not to raise tariffs, although the 25% tax on Parmigiano remains.”
Italian officials visited Washington for high-level meetings last month. And Italian exporters and Italian American importers had packed President Donald Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 6 and other recent events in a show of force to get the administration to back off, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican from Northeast Pennsylvania, and other industry advisers said at the meeting.
Barletta, chairman of the 450-company American Italian Food Coalition Chairman, said in a statement that “President Trump and his team made the right decision" and sent "a positive message to Italian-American communities in states across America, like Pennsylvania, that the Trump Administration understands they are a critical part of the fabric of our nation.”
“Italy today emerges undamaged from the revision of the list of products subjected to tariffs imposed by the U.S." last fall, Foreign Minister Di Maio said in his statement Saturday.
Italy had appealed to the U.S. not to punish the nation, though the U.S. had permission from the World Trade Organization to do so. The tariffs would have hit as part of broad U.S. sanctions against European Union countries for their support of Airbus against Boeing. Airbus has major airplane building plants in France and Germany, as well as the U.K., China, and Alabama.
The Trump administration said Friday that it will raise the tariff rate on aircraft coming from the European Union to 15% from 10% on March 18.
“We’re doing everything possible to limit the impact on Italy, but the Americans have the upper hand,” Di Maio aide Ivan Scalfarotto told Bloomberg News. “Italy isn’t part of the Airbus consortium, and tariffs will have a cost for American companies, restaurants, families.”
The importers and their lobbyists depict the fight as a struggle between independent-minded family businesses and big governments using them as pawns in an unrelated fight.
But Italian American consumers have their own brand of independence. As reader Robert Capretto responded to my earlier story in an e-mail about the threat consumers will turn to “fake prosciutto” from Latin America or Asia if Italian costs too much: “Don’t believe it. We Italians know fake from real. If they tick us off, we can make our own.”
Factory fortune backs bell
Seven years after it was trucked off to storage from the now-demolished Independence Park Visitors Center’s bell tower, the Bicentennial Bell donated by Queen Elizabeth II to Philadelphia for Independence festivities in 1976 looks as if it may be getting a new home, in time for the Semiquincentennial in 2026.
The Landenberger Family Foundation, funded by heirs to an old Frankford Avenue hosiery-manufacturing company, has pledged $1 million for the planned Bicentennial Bell Garden. Total cost will be “between $1.2 to $1.3 million." Other pledges totaling $30,000 have been collected, so the landscape architects can get to work as the final money is raised, says Maiti Gallen, outreach and program director for the Independence Historical Trust. The bell, she notes, is six times the size of the Liberty Bell.
“The bell will testify to Philadelphia’s historical importance in the universal quest for freedom and democracy,” said Joseph Glyn and Elie Glyn, directors of the Landenberger Family Foundation, in a statement. Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod said she looks forward to the “welcoming greenspace” as a location to “interpret the shared history of the two countries.”