3 May 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Government to challenge European Union over wine at WTO


The European Commission in Brussels launched a new assault on SA wine makers yesterday with a ban on the words "vintage", "tawny" and "ruby" on the labels of SA fortified wines exported to Europe. The SA government is expected to challenge the move in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The commission announcement followed earlier victories by Brussels in persuading SA authorities to outlaw the use of the terms "port", "sherry", "grappa" and "ouzo" on SA produced drinks. "The European Commission adopted new rules for the labelling of wine," the European Union (EU) executive said. "The rules lay down what information must be shown on labels from January 1 2003, such as alcoholic strength, lot number or the name of the bottler. The use of certain optional terms, such as production methods, traditional expressions, names of the vineyard or the vintage year is regulated. "This decision introduces arrangements for protection of traditional expressions to describe wine, including the language in which the terms are used. Provisions applying to third-country wines marketed in the EU are also outlined."

EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler said: "This labelling system means producers will better inform consumers about wines they are buying. The decision is a cornerstone to better protection of consumer and producer interests, to ensure the smooth operation of the internal market."

The commission said some expressions in use on wine labels were so closely related to specific regions of Europe that they deserved exclusive protection. SA port producers have already been affected by the labelling rules, with the UK authorities advising importers of Bergsig estate "ports" not to bring in fortified wines labelled "vintage" or "ruby".
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