FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s trade war dampened the overseas market for American-made whiskey last year, diminishing exports even as the domestic mar  ket continues to thrive.

Overall exports of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey tumbled amid a trade war-induced decline in exports to key European markets.

At home, U.S. sales posted solid gains, especially for pricier premium brands, the Distilled Spirits Council reported Wednesday.

For distillers, it was the proverbial glass-half-full, glass-half-empty, scenario.

“While it was another strong year for U.S. spirits sales, the tariffs imposed by the European Union are causing a significant slump in American whiskey exports,” said Chris Swonger, the council’s president and CEO.

American whiskey makers have been caught in the middle of a trans-Atlantic trade dispute since mid-2018, when the EU imposed tariffs on American whiskey and other U.S. products in response to Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum.

Those duties amount to a tax, which whiskey producers can either absorb in reduced profits or pass along to customers through higher prices — and risk losing market share in highly competitive markets.

The tariff headaches continued in 2019, when whiskey makers in the U.S saw their exports decline by 16% to $996 million compared to the prior year, the council said in its report.

American whiskey exports to the EU were down 27% in the last year, it said.

American whiskey accounts for 65% of all U.S. spirits exports, and the EU is the top export market for whiskey makers. Exports plunged by nearly 44% in Spain, nearly 33% in the United Kingdom and almost 20% in France, the council said.

At Catoctin Creek Distillery in Virginia, prospects remain bleak for now to rebuild the business it had cultivated in Europe before the tariff fight.

“Tariffs remain in place and our business has been at a standstill with virtually no revenue coming in from Europe,” said Scott Harris, co-founder and general manager of Catoctin Creek. “We do have whiskey and warehouses in Amsterdam, but with the increased pricing due to tariffs, it doesn’t move very fast.”

Whiskey producers got a shot of relief last year with an agreement to end retaliatory tariffs that Canada and Mexico had slapped on

whiskey and other U.S. products.

The new North American trade agreement preserves tariff-free trade for spirits with America’s two neighbors, the council said.

 

Selmer chief charged

with stealing cell phone 

SELMER — A West Tennessee police chief has been charged with stealing a cell phone that was being held as evidence, authorities said.

Selmer Police Chief Elmer Neal Burks was indicted Monday in McNairy County on charges of theft of property under $1,000 and official misconduct, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said. Burks has been released from jail on bond, TBI said in a news release Tuesday.

District Attorney Mark Davidson asked the TBI in December to investigate the theft of a cell phone being held by Selmer police. The state police agency said Burks took the cell phone, which was found in his son’s bedroom closet.

Burks’ son, Michael Burks, also has been charged in the case. 

 

Earthquakes rattle area near Great Smoky park

GATLINBURG — Five small earthquakes rattled am area near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in east Tennessee, the U.S. Geological Survey reported Tuesday.

The first quake registered at 2:48 a.m. and the last was reported at 6:56 a.m., The News & Observer of Raleigh reported, citing USGS data, which also said all five were small, between magnitude 1.3 and 1.7.

The earthquake swarm hit in a small area about 25 miles southwest of Knoxville, near the North Carolina border. They were likely too small to be felt by people in the area, the agency said.

“Earthquakes too small to cause damage are felt about once a year.

“Earthquakes too small to be felt are abundant in the seismic zone, and seismographs have recorded hundreds of them in recent decades,” the USGS said.

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