A trade dispute between Australia and Canada over Aussie wine exports has taken a new turn, with the Turnbull government filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over what it says are “disadvantageous restrictions” of the sale of imported wine in Canada.
In a statement, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steve Ciobo said the move was the first time Australia had initiated formal action with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since 2003.
The Australian government is looking to commence a formal consultation over “Canada’s discriminatory measures affecting Australian wine” – namely, restrictions on the sale of imported wine in Canadian grocery stores, as well as extra fees relating to imported wine.
“This step responds to concerns from the Australian wine industry regarding the Canadian measures, which negatively impact trade with Australia’s fourth largest export market for wine, currently valued at $185 million,” Ciobo said in a statement today.
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The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia has welcomed the move, with bilateral discussions between the two countries having failed to make headway on the issue.
“Wine sales in Canada are controlled by provincial liquor boards. In recent years, the liquor boards have introduced a number of measures that discriminate in favour of locally produced wine,” says Winemakers’ Federation chief Tony Battaglene.
“We respect the Canadian wine industry, but we are seeking a level playing field to ensure we can maximise our opportunities in this key market.”
He says that while China is the biggest export market for local wine producers, Canada is just as crucial.
“China is growing at 40 per cent a year, but producers don’t want all their eggs in one basket. The Canadian market provides an opportunity to diversify risks and that’s very important.”
The issue comes as another blow for exporters, with uncertainty still looming over the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau held off on signing the deal back in November.
But the wine industry is hoping the WTO dispute will bolster their cause in trying to gain market access to Canada.
“It’s a long process, but Australia has a strong case,” says Battaglene.
Minster Ciobo said he would prefer to have resolved the issue bilaterally, but that “it is appropriate to commence dispute proceedings given the lack of progress.”