EU, Aust toast new wine deal

The European Union and Australia signed an agreement this week that will protect such European names as “Champagne” in Australia while further opening European markets to wines from Down Under.

The deal will give geographical indicators like that of the famous French bubbly, along with Portugal’s “Porto” and Spanish “Sherry” full protection in Australia as soon as one year after the deal comes into force.

The EU hopes the wine deal will allow it a foot in the door to secure similar geographical protection for other farm products, like Parma ham and Roquefort cheese.

“I hope the acknowledgment of the Australian authorities might have a certain spillover on other areas, not only on wine,” said EU Farm Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel.

She signed the agreement with Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, who lauded the extra export potential it held for Australian producers.

European producers have been increasingly pushed off supermarket shelves by Australian wines, which are often cheaper, carry better labelling and often carry bold flavours with mass-market appeal.

At stake is the world’s biggest wine consumer market. “It is a terrific market to break into. We don’t put any limits on how far we can go,” said Smith.

Australia exports some $1.4 billion into the EU, primarily to Britain but increasingly into continental markets traditionally dominated by French wines.

Australian wine imports increased by almost 75% between 2000 and 2006, at the cost of European mass market producers.

“We think we can do even better,” said Smith. At the same time, European producers were increasingly angered that their most exalted exports like Champagne have to compete with local knockoffs that brazenly use their names.

Anticipating the deal, many Australian wine producers have already started changing names like “Champagne” to “sparkling wine.”

At the same time EU producers have wanted to keep Australian and other New World wines out, claiming they do not face the same rigorous rules that force local producers into serious investments.

Australian vintners have always been more open to innovative winemaking practices compared to Europeans, where wine is often steeped in centuries of tradition.

— AAP NewsWire

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