Having struggled along with most Greeks through a 9 ½-year-long economic and austerity crisis that saw spending even for essentials such as food slow dramatically at its height, Greece’s prized canned peach producers now have to deal with American tariffs as high as 25 percent.
That could cut deep into their business, they told the news agency Reuters in a feature on their plight as they, like other agricultural companies and businesses, are caught in a tug-o’-war between the United States and the European Union.
Trump’s tariffs will hit goods ranging from Scotch whiskey to Italian cheeses, French wines and the mouth-watering Greek peach. Greece is the world's biggest exporter of tinned peaches with about 20 percent of its 250,000-ton annual production sent to the American market which it is gobbled up.
The import levy had been 18 percent but Trump went hard after the EU as part of World Trade Organization-backed countermeasures to subsidies for the airplane manufacturer Airbus, the competitor to the US’ Boeing. The hikes will will increase the total import duty to the United States to 43%.
"Trump would do well to behave himself and let us get to work so we can have a livelihood," said peach farmer Tasos Halkidis. "We don't want this tariff business,” he told the news agency.
Much of the peaches come from the plain straddling the regions of Imathia and Pella in central Macedonia and bloom in the spring, creating a sea of peaches on land.
Kostas Apostolou, head of the Greek Canners Association, said the dispute is threatening their livelihood and will potentially shut them out of their biggest market. "Why are they punishing us?" Apostolou told Reuters.
The increase in tariffs came into effect on Oct. 18, just as Greeks readied to ship 50 million tins to U.S. markets that includes not just supermarkets but catering companies that supply hospitals, schools and the military, many of whom have either canceled orders or have said they will not be prepared to pay for any tariff increase, producers said.
"Suddenly there was this (trade) war ... We could never imagine that this could affect our jobs here in this small area," Apostolou said, the Greek companies finding themselves with an oversupply they can’t sell because of what Trump ordered.
The Greek companies have tailored their products, right down to 3-kilogram (6.61 pound) tins, specifically for the US and they can’t be sold in the EU, the rest of Europe, Asia or Latin America where the preferred container is a kilo (2.2 pounds.)
The Canners Association and other industry experts say the income that will be lost from the U.S. market is about $50 million, small on a global scale but a big whack for one of Greece’s otherwise poorest regions where unemployment is 20 percent, said the report by Lefteris Papadimas and Vassilis Triantafyllou.
Now they are anxious that the unsold goods will collapse prices and hurt them even more, stuck with canned peaches they can’t unload, and devastate a district where there are millions of peach trees on some 50,000 acres housing 10,000 small farms and 10,000 workers.
"It's a shock," says Eleftherios Saitis, especially with Greek agricultural goods coming back from EU sanctions on Russia five years ago that took another bite. Trump, they said, could be the one who buries them. "With the tariffs from the United States, it will be a very big hit, it will be a catastrophe," said Halkidis.