Opening up export markets should be a key EU 'strategic priority'

Despite annual exports worth €8.8bn and a €6.4bn surplus contribution to the EU’s trade balance, Europe's wine industry is still facing a 'myriad' of prohibitive import tariffs and discriminatory trade practices, warns José Ramon Fernandez.

By José Ramon Fernandez

02 Oct 2013

Wine is Europe’s biggest agricultural export. Beyond its major contribution to the European economy, the wine industry is also a key part of the agricultural and social fabric of rural communities across large parts of the continent. 

Consumers worldwide appreciate European wines because our quality products embody our territory and our culture. The EU has long acknowledged this fact and supported our industry in its endeavours to ensure that our products can be enjoyed across the globe.

However, our wine exports face an increasingly problematic situation. Even though a myriad free trade agreement negotiations have been launched since the Doha round stalled, only two have been successfully concluded to date which are relevant for our exports (with South Korea and Singapore).

In the meantime EU wine exporters are increasingly facing a proliferation of unilateral protectionist barriers in key export markets. These are often part of recovery packages or unjustified retaliatory practices, with a discriminatory impact on European wine.

"Opening up more market opportunities for the largest EU agricultural export sector must surely be a top strategic priority for both EU agriculture and trade policy"

As a result, the current prospects for the growth of European wine exports are problematic. Prohibitive import tariffs are still in place in India; our products still face discriminatory treatment by the liquor boards in Canada; endless bureaucratic barriers hamper exports to Russia and major markets such as the US fail to give sufficient protection to geographical indications. 

Last but not least, our products have been taken hostage by bilateral tensions between the EU and our most promising trading partner, with the launch of an unjustified retaliatory antidumping investigation by China this summer. 

The success of negotiations with countries such as Canada, India, Japan, Ukraine, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam will be crucial to our ability to maintain our position as the EU’s leading agricultural export sector. And of course we have high hopes for the recently launched TTIP negotiations with the USA.

We look to the European commission, with the support of the European parliament in its important new role in trade policy, to make a real concerted push for the successful conclusion of pending free trade agreement negotiations as soon as possible and for the dismantling of unjustified barriers that our industry still faces in many key export markets. 

The Barroso II commission has staked much credibility on its trade agenda, which our sector supports fully. But less than a year from the end of its mandate we are far from attaining what we set out to achieve. 

Opening up more market opportunities for the largest EU agricultural export sector must surely be a top strategic priority for both EU agriculture and trade policy, particularly at a time when our economies struggle to recover and unemployment remains the bane of our society.

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