PARIS (Reuters) - French spirits sales and exports have dropped sharply this year as consumers continued to cut back spending, the industry lobby said on Thursday, warning that looming trade barriers could further hurt the sector.

Cognac makers said on Wednesday they were "deeply" worried about an anti-dumping probe launched by Beijing in January, after the European Commission imposed tariffs on imports of Chinese electric vehicles.

Total spirits exports dropped 13% in volume last year to 406 million litres and 12% in value to 4.8 billion euros ($5.2 billion), with sales to the U.S. collapsing 36% in value and 35% in volume, the Federation Francaise des Spiritueux (FFS) said.

Cognac exports, which account for 70% of total French spirits exports, plunged 21% in volume in 2023. China accounted for 19.4% of cognac exports in 2023, according cognac producers.

"The consequences of inflation in third countries are now giving way to ongoing trade conflicts whose resolution is threatened," FFS said in a statement, citing the United States with uncertain presidential elections and China's anti-dumping investigation.

Shares of Remy Cointreau which earns significant revenue in the Asian market, were down more than 6% on Thursday, to the lowest level in more than 7 years. Pernod Ricard was also lower although at a lesser extent.

In 2024, two thirds of spirits exports in value were being shipped to high-risk markets, the FFS said.

Alcohol demand has also fallen sharply in France in the past years, shedding 60% over 60 years.

Spirits sales in major retail outlets shed 10% since 2020 and 4.3% in 2023 only to 251 million litres, FFS said.

"The first months of 2024 leave an even more bitter taste: the decline in volumes is around 5% compared to the previous year and marks an accelerating downward trend," it said.

Some types of spirits used in cocktails, such as gin, were spared but digestives collapsed with whiskeys falling 6.4% and rums 3.8%.

($1 = 0.9274 euros)

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Josie Kao)