It really takes a twisted taste for hostility to use wine as a weapon of economic vendetta. I could see it used by Cosa Nostra, as a way to show you don’t mess with Sicilian clans. After all, the liquid that is used to clink glasses and offer toasts in happy times has the color of blood. And it is Christ’s blood, for gods sake. But no, it’s not the Italian mafia who’s pulling it out, it’s the person occupying the White House.
Wine has no taste for him, but a color. Red, one can assume.
“I just like the way they look. (…) American wines are great and they didn’t do the right thing when they start taxing our companies”, tweeted the head of the United States, as a response to France taxing big tech companies, most of them based on the US West Coast but some in China, Germany or France.
“I’ve always said American wine is better than French wine!”, he wrote to justify his threats to put new tariffs on French wine.
“I’ve always liked American wines better than French wines — even though I don’t drink wine”. That’s quite some quote.
If he could, he would have a wall build somewhere in the Atlantic, between the two wine-making countries, to make sure migrant bottles – literal “bouteilles à la mer” – don’t sneak in on Cape Cod’s beaches.
Taking measures of protectionism isn’t a problem per se, it’s a choice (which makes sense mostly when you’re vulnerable, but when you’re the most powerful economy in the world, the “land of the free”, it just feels selfish and paradoxical). Still, it’s a choice a people can make. But in that case, it’s not a people’s choice, and it’s not an economic decision either : it’s pure revenge. With the insulting tone that goes with it. You know, Cosa Nostra-like, a call for escalation of tensions.
On the contrary, the tax voted by the little European country targetting global tech empires, which avoid paying taxes like other regular companies, was just a measure of fiscal equity. Or an attempt at it, considering the tiny amount of this tax (3% of revenues made in France). It’s a fair thing to pay taxes when you do business somewhere and enjoy the local consumers money or data, or whatever you take from them. When you go somewhere, you abide by the local rules. Otherwise, what is the alternative ? Should countries give up on having any democratic government and just let Google and Amazon rule the world ?
That form of pitiless conquest might please M. Trump (whose brother operates a winery in Virginia), but not everyone else, neither in France nor in America.
In the US, is it what folks want or need ? Raising the cost of imports of foreign wines may boost the sales of California and American wines, but Americans like French wines, and Champagne and rosé, so they’ll just find them a bit more expensive at the grocery store. Elected officials from the wine-producing region of California have recently urged the US administration to remove tariffs on U.S. wine in new trade agreements with China or Japan. But they said nothing about taxing French wine.
For normal people not involved in geopolitical games, the cost of this policy is the damage done to grassroots US-France relations – like during the French fries vs freedom fries – and to relations with other European countries, that take notice. Like The Guardian wrote, Italian, Spanish and other European wine would have to be affected as well, since tariffs are fixed at the EU scale.
The deeper damage you may not realize on the western edge of the Atlantic, is the one done by economic conquest, which like any conquest, produces uprooting. It means pain through loss of identity, control, sense of usefulness, dignity, and wealth. On the wine front, the French people will recover, because if there’s something it has no trouble making and selling, it’s wine. It might even consider a drop in US imports a good thing, favoring short-distance shipping. But inside, in villages and cities, a question spreads out: what to do with a friend who’s already the richest country and still have to put everyone else down ? Why wage war to allies who are merely trying to keep their head above water ?
It’s not just taxes that are at stake, it’s something more abstract that has to do with human well-being. And if it becomes inevitable that America’s goal is to subdue countries like France (I should say other countries, as well), populations are going to suffer, and react. From inside and outside. This summer, American pride – if that’s something we can measure, like Gallop does – hit a record low since 2001, with 45% of people answering they were “extremely proud” of being American, after reaching 69% and 79% in 2002 and 2004, the highest recorded years.
At the end of the day, Goliath can lose. By losing friends, as a start.
Friends is what some of us still are, accross the ocean. This is our nations’ history. Despite Goliath’s reckless tweets, giving people hangovers, French and Americans have shared skills for years, especially in the wine field. Obviously, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are not American words. And let’s remember the most standing and powerful symbol of our ties: the Statue of Liberty, built in Paris, and offered for the American Independance centennial, with the date “4th of July 1776” engraved in the book the statue holds in her left hand. Trump is just throwing all that grandeur to hell, along with rational and good-hearted thinking. A spirit that’s symbiotic with the communication platform he’s addicted to.
There are other ways to speak to each other. Thoughtful written letters, or the phone. People seem nicer, or warmer, on the line. So my imagination went on a call with my old friend, maybe the last call, like bartenders say, before all this economic war gets out of control destroying the generosity that’s within us.