European Scooters Caught Up in U.S.-EU Beef Trade Spat


For U.S. fans of the iconic Italian scooter brand Vespa, it may be La Dolce Vita no more.

The United States Trade Representative will hold a hearing Feb. 15 on the U.S. beef industry's request to add a massive 100 percent tariff to certain small scooters and motorcycles imported from the European Union as a retaliation to EU restrictions on U.S. beef products.

European mopeds and motorcycles would face heavy U.S. tariffs if the U.S. beef industry has its way.

The provision, included in a request for public comment that closed Jan. 30, would cover EU-made mopeds and motorcycles with engines between 51 cubic centimeters and 500 cubic centimeters. That includes many scooters and small motorcycles from popular brands like Aprilia, Ducati, BMW and Vespa, among others.

The issue stems from a years-long EU ban on U.S. beef products treated with certain hormones, which effectively prevents Europeans from buying most American cattle products. In 1999, the World Trade Organization said that the ban cost U.S. cattle farmers as much as $117 million per year. The organization's Dispute Settlement Body found in favor of the United States and authorized the U.S. to suspend tariff concessions amounting the same value for imports from the EU.

That gave the U.S. a green light to retaliate, and the USTR drew up a list of European products that would get a 100 percent tariff. That original list didn't include European motorcycles or scooters. 

In 2009, the U.S. and EU reached a deal in which some beef products could be imported. But in its recent request for comments, the USTR said that the deal hasn't lived up to its expectations, and “it has not in practice provided benefits to the U.S. beef industry sufficient to compensate for the economic harm resulting from the EU ban on all but specially-produced U.S. beef.”

And thus the U.S. beef industry has requested that government enforce a new tariff list for EU goods. The effort is led by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the North American Mean Institute and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Most of the items on the list are pretty predictable: beef, pork, vegetables and other agricultural products. But this time around the list includes both EU-made hair clippers and the motorcycles.

And that has American cyclists in an uproar.

U.S. beef is heavily regulated in the EU.

“We don’t believe non-agricultural products should be included in tariffs connected to agricultural trade disputes,” Rob Dingman, president of the American Motorcyclist Association said in a Feb. 8 statement. “In addition to substantially raising prices for American riders, this tariff would jeopardize the many small- and medium-sized businesses that rely on the sale of European motorcycles, parts and accessories.”

The USTR is set to hold a public hearing on the issue Feb. 15 on the issue, where Dingman will testify. The USTR has not yet issued a timeline for a decision on the beef industry's request.

The public has sent more than 10,000 comments on the tariff list the USTR, according the online posting on regulations.gov. The USTR proposed including motorcycles in the original tariff list back in 1998, but scuttled the idea after public opposition, the American Motorcyclist Association said in its statement.