Posted: 12/04/2021

US cheese export market opening up after Trump tariffs are scrapped


Devon cheesemaker Quicke’s is hoping to rebuild its profile in the USA

Cheesemakers are hoping to exploit the US cheese export market after the Biden administration agreed to suspend 25% tariffs on British cheese, which were imposed by former president Donald Trump.

The tariffs were levied on a range of European food and drink products, including cheese, in 2019 as part of a row over subsidies paid to Airbus. But these have now been suspended for four months on British goods after negotiations between the countries’ respective governments.

The US accounted for around 25% of Quicke’s sales before tariffs, but the Devon cheddar-maker has seen sales there fall by 70% in the past year due to tariffs and COVID.

“Our American sales were absolutely slaughtered, so this is good news,” said owner Mary Quicke. “COVID is receding, foodservice is making a comeback and the tariff is gone, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

The US is the UK’s second-largest dairy export market after the EU with previously strong demand for British artisan cheese. But cheese exports to the US fell by 30% last year, compared to 2018, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, a reduction worth around £12m.

At Singletons in Lancashire, exports to the US account for around 25% of sales. The company managed to grow its business there last year, despite the tariffs, thanks to new listings. Head of sales Henry Openshaw said the suspension of levies was positive news, but also made pricing difficult.  

“We welcome the removal of any barriers to free trade,” he said. “Lower tariffs mean lower prices, which makes British cheese more attractive for US consumers. But a temporary cessation of hostilities leaves us in a quandary. Yoyo-ing prices confuse retailers, who are not all apprised of the wider political and economic circumstances.” He added that he hoped further US-UK negotiations would lead to a permanent deal.

Mary Quicke told FFD that her daughter Jane, who is based in Vancouver, had joined the company to help rebuild sales in the US. 

“It’s a very different environment there now because of COVID,” she said. 

“A lot of the focus has been on supporting American cheesemakers and there’s been a big move to online, so there’s work to be done to get back to where we were.”

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