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Politics of the vine – Mediterranean style

By Greg Sherwood
E-mail: Sherwood@cis.co.za
8th September 2000

South African agricultural negotiators are preparing to do battle with the European Union, as both sides try to reach a formal agreement on wines and spirits that would unlock a 32 million litre, tariff-free wine quota for local South African exporters.

Although British Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair has been championing the South African cause (only SA wines used for cabinet functions), some of Britain’s mainland European counterparts have not been as accommodating. After all, no one can forget the farcical behaviour of Greece and Italy recently, who both vetoed the completed trade accord at the 11th hour over the delicate political agreements on the production and labelling of local South African Grappa and Ouzo.

While the Spanish and Portuguese could just possibly be forgiven for their vociferous resistance to final legislation, considering the very excellent quality of port and sherry that has been produced in the Cape for over 300 years, and which is widely exported to Europe, the arguments of the Italians and Greeks hardly held up to closer scrutiny.

This last minute resistance immediately prompted the South African Department of Trade and Industry to investigate the local market structures for answers. However, after much consultation, it was discovered that South Africa had no known Ouzo producers and only 2 or 3 Grappa producers, the most well known being the Meerlust Estate in Stellenbosch. Quite naturally, their winemaker since 1978, Giorgio Dalla Cia, claimed he was only expressing his Italian birthright to produce Grappa. After all, he is an Italian national!

Agriculture has traditionally been a strong catalyst for disputes between the EU and its trading partners, and now, the pulling down of local McDonalds Restaurants in France also seems to be becoming a national pastime. Whether it’s because of American duty on Roquefort cheese, unpopular mega-Mondavi wineries in the Languedoc, or the contents and labelling of a wine bottle, the Mediterranean nations – France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy – have taken it in turns to complicate negotiations for a more free and fair global trade.

If only the Eurocrats spent as much time and money promoting greater competitiveness within their own respective national wine industries, as they did fighting off well meaning nations such as South Africa, the world’s wine trade might be a happier and more prosperous place for all.

(Boy oh boy, McDonalds must be glad they don’t sell wine in their restaurants!)

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