SA wants to avoid wine ‘war’ with Britain

Date posted:
October 18, 2012

South Africa says it wants to avoid a tit-for-tat alcohol import war with Britain over increased bulk wine sales that have cost jobs in the local bottling industry. The “very fraught issue” was raised in a meeting between Trade Minister Rob Davies and visiting British business secretary Vince Cable.

“We pointed out that what's good for exports is good for imports, but we don't want to go in for a tit-for-tat process if we can avoid it,” said Davies, who had earlier warned of possible retaliatory action on whisky imports.

The trend toward bulk wine sales, which is a growing commercial move by importers, has cost about 1,000 jobs in the local bottling industry.

But South Africa has been upset by the British government funded study that said mass sales were a greener trade option for imports from the long haul supplier to its biggest foreign wine buyer. The meeting won a pledge by Cable that London would not back the argument as trade policy.

“It would be completely wrong to incorporate into trade policy these ideas around food miles,” he said, adding he was making “it absolutely clear that we're not going there”.

Pretoria said it had requested a joint engagement with supermarkets and Cable, who described the issue of wine in plastic containers as opposed to bottles as a “very fraught issue”, agreed that a dialogue was needed.

“We do need to have a proper dialogue with the industry, with the wholesalers and supermarkets so they understand the social implications of what they would regard as commercial decisions and we need to talk to them about how we can mitigate that possibly,” he said. “It's not a government issue but they need to be aware of the consequences.”

Increasing bulk imports were a commercial phenomenon with most Australian wine also arriving in containers in Britain and other parts of Europe, he said.

Davies said Pretoria did not want “a bulk import war” which would be avoided with the engagement with buyers and a consistent policy message from Britain.

“I think there may not be a need for us to take a corresponding steps on whisky and gin, but it's always something in the background,” he said.

Last month, South Africa exported 85.7 million litres of wine to Britain.



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