Labours wine boomerang
EUs strict wine labelling regulations also apply to non-EU
By Kurt Sansone
It appeared to be a trump card for Alfred Sants anti-membership
campaign, but the controversy raised over the wine labelling regulations
of the European Union will come back to haunt him if a prospective Labour
government decides to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU.
The Malta Financial and Business Times can reveal that the EUs
strict wine labelling regulations apply to all the trading partners
with which the Union has an agreement.
The agreement on trade in wine signed between the European Union and
Australia in 1994 clearly stipulates that for Australian wines to be
exported to the EU they had to adhere to the strict labelling regulations.
Malta cannot expect to be treated differently whether in or out of the
EU. Wine labelling is essentially a consumer issue and at the centre
of EU trading policy.
Upon membership Maltese wine producers cannot label their wines as Maltese
quality wines unless the grapes used to produce the wine are wholly
grown and harvested in Malta.
The same would apply under a free trade agreement, laying to rest claims
by the Opposition that partnership is a more flexible solution than
Article 2 of the EU-Australia agreement states: " wine originating
in shall mean, when followed by the name of one of the Contracting
Parties, a wine made within the territory of that Contracting Party
from grapes which have been wholly harvested and produced in the territory
of that Contracting Party."
Currently the wine industry imports almost 70 per cent of its grapes
and wines produced in this way cannot carry the label wine originating
in Malta under EU regulations.
Aid to wine industry
On Sunday the Labour leader quoted from a letter that three of the largest
wine producers had sent to the relevant authorities in December last
year. Quoting from the letter, Dr Sant said that implementing EU regulations
would wipe out 99 per cent of the wine producing industry in Malta.
However, during the negotiations with the EU, government obtained a
special concession by which the amount of land used for growing vines
would be able to increase to 1000 hectares from the current 300 hectares.
This concession was obtained despite the EUs policy to limit the
increase in the amount of land dedicated to vine growing.
The negotiated position means that in a couple of years time wine
producers would have enough grapes harvested in Malta to be able to
produce Maltese quality wines that strictly adhere to EU
Two of the producers mentioned by Dr Sant, namely Marsovin and Delicata
have been on record saying that they were ready to face up to the challenge.
Both have embarked on investment programmes earmarked to make them competitive
in the new trading environment.
Under the negotiated agreement government would be allocating Lm2.1
million to encourage farmers to plant quality vines. Producers would
also benefit from more than Lm1 million to be able to import grapes
for the production of table wine.
Already EU compliant
But for one Maltese producer the whole controversy is of no concern.
Roger Aquilina, oenologist at Meridiana Wine Estate told The Malta Financial
and Business Times that their wine conforms 100 per cent to EU regulations.
"We have always conformed to EU regulations and the current issue
does not concern us at all. We already export quality wines
to EU member states without any problems. The strong point of our product
is not just that it is a good wine, of which there are hundreds in Europe,
but that it is a good Maltese wine."
Mr Aquilina said that from a consumers perspective it is only
right to provide correct labelling. He then described the current situation
by drawing an analogy. "Imagine a Spanish producer exports potatoes
to Holland and says that they are a produce of Malta, knowing full well
that Maltese potatoes are highly prized in Holland. We have a similar
scenario where wines produced from imported grapes are being labelled
as Maltese wines."
Mr Aquilina continued: "I believe that from a farmers perspective
current practices contribute to the depreciation of the Maltese farmers
New Zealands wine fury
The EUs strict labelling regulations were at the heart of a heated
controversy between the European block and New Zealand last year.
New regulations that came in force in January this year were heavily
criticised by New Zealand wine producers because they were perceived
as restricting trade in the EU. The New Zealand producers even described
the new regulations as the "Brussels edict."
This goes to prove that non-membership of the EU still means that Malta
would have to take upon it a number of trade obligations that could
pose a challenge for Maltese manufacturers.
New Zealand can never be an EU member state but to continue enjoying
access to the EUs internal market wine producers from down under
have had to adhere to the strict labelling regulations.