By Lou Barletta
It was my duty to represent Pennsylvanians and fight for your best interests for two decades. During my time as mayor of Hazleton and then as a member of Congress, I always put Pennsylvania first. Today, as chairman of the American Italian Food Coalition, I am trying to do the same.
Two years ago, Pennsylvania’s Italian American communities and businesses were put at risk. In 2018, it was found that four European countries were unlawfully subsidizing Airbus – one of the largest aircraft makers in the world. As a result, the World Trade Organization allowed the U.S. to place tariffs on the countries involved in this illegal behavior. And, despite having nothing to do with the subsidies, Italy was included on this list of countries.
This past October, as well as earlier this year, the U.S. imposed the retaliatory tariffs on European Union goods. Fortunately, and rightfully, President Trump did not include uniquely Italian goods on that list of retaliatory tariffs. For the sake of Pennsylvania’s businesses and communities, the Office of the United States Trade Representative needs to continue to leave Italy off of their retaliatory list.
Placing tariffs on uniquely Italian products like wafers, biscuits, coffee and pasta would have done a lot more than just take away food that Americans have grown to love – this would have jeopardized the mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries and threatened Pennsylvanian jobs like importers, distributors and retailers. Right now, in the wake of COVID-19’s economic fallout, we cannot afford to put even more jobs at risk.
Almost 3 million Pennsylvanians have sought unemployment benefits since the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses across the commonwealth continue to struggle, and even close permanently, including many Italian-American businesses. Placing tariffs on uniquely Italian products will do nothing but make it more difficult for these companies to recover and thrive. Pennsylvanians need support during these uncertain economic times, not more costs and adversity.
Paul Catalano, owner of Catalano Importing in Scranton, is just one of many Italian-American business owners who would be harmed by these unnecessary tariffs. Catalano Importing has been a staple of Scranton for nearly a century, and Paul Catalano has been running the business for nearly 50 years after taking over for his father. This is a business that prides itself on authenticity, and a lot of that has to do with using products like pasta and olive oil that are imported straight from Italy.
It is in the best interest of Pennsylvania’s economy, businesses and communities for Italian products like wafers, biscuits, coffee and pasta to be left off of the list of EU goods that will be tariffed. Nearly all businesses have been struggling to recover from COVID-19, and that includes community leaders like Catalano Importing and Di Bruno Bros. These businesses deserve support – not increased adversity in the form of tariffs.
President Trump has always stood by hard-working Pennsylvanians and the Italian-American community, and they have never needed his continued support as much as they do right now. As an Italian American who wants to see his home state thrive, I know President Trump will want his team to make the right decision once again and exclude these uniquely Italian products from USTR’s retaliatory list. ••
Lou Barletta formerly represented Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District.