With soaring demand, American distillers rely on free trade

With soaring demand, American distillers rely on free trade
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The American distilled spirits industry is booming. From new small, craft distillers to long-established brands, American workers and ingenuity are driving a spirits renaissance. Never before has there been such overwhelming demand in the United States and abroad for American-made spirits — from Kentucky’s famous whiskey to expertly crafted vodkas that rival their Russian forbearers.

America, ever the melting pot, has built upon distilling traditions from around the globe and perfected them here at home, carefully creating spirits that fill glasses in every corner of the world.

The Presidents’ Forum of the Distilled Spirits Industry represents 55 percent of all distilled spirits sold in the United States. Our member companies are diverse in what they produce and where their strongest markets are. Thanks to unprecedented demand for their products, we represent $77.63  billion in economic impact each year. We are responsible for nearly half a million American jobs, paying tens of billions of dollars in wages annually. The distilled spirits industry clearly is a vital part of the American economy that supports workers and the communities where they live.


In Kentucky, for example, the whiskey business includes not just production jobs but many in management, sales, office work and related tourism positions.

Like other sectors of industry, distillers benefit from our country’s robust economic growth, both domestically and abroad. From easing the regulatory burden to lowering tax rates, the Trump administration and Congress have made strides in fostering a competitive American business climate, and they should be applauded for such success.

Domestic demand for bourbon has been growing for years. Recently, we have seen an increase in international demand, and not just in European nations. Emerging markets such as Brazil, China and India are developing a taste for American spirits, opening new opportunities for our members. We want to capitalize on this growing demand, but recent trade issues have created an uncertainty for us and our plans for future production.

Currently, distilled spirits producers rely upon zero-for-zero tariff access, a trade model that allows them to buy and sell spirits across borders without penalty, spurring international growth for American distillers. Such open-market access for these American companies has boosted domestic job growth, compounded local community investment, heightened American agricultural production, and given the American consumer more choice of quality products. Small business owners have grown their businesses, hired workers and increased production, all because of domestic and international sales. 

We support American workers and we are proud of the rich distilling tradition American companies have maintained for centuries. But we fear that current efforts to protect American industry by artificially restricting global commerce will hurt American workers in the end. History has shown that there are no winners in a global trade war. “Made in America” should not mean the products must stay in America. If fair and free trade thrives, so, too, will our nation.

Those who know a little about a good whiskey know one of the most important ingredients is time. In fact, this drink ages in American oak barrels for several years, before the drinker has a chance to taste a uniquely American product — bourbon.

We are hopeful world leaders will quickly address current trade issues, so that American distillers can continue to satisfy people at home and around the globe with our fine spirits. And while discussion about the future of international trade policies evolves, our whiskey will be waiting.

Matt Dogali is president and CEO of The Presidents’ Forum of the Distilled Spirits Industry, which represents more than half of all distilled products created in America.