An end to Canadian Bordeaux?

Related tags Eu European union

The EU and Canada have reached an agreement on the protection of a
number of wine and spirit terms, including Bordeaux, Champagne and
Grappa. But the EU's fight for protection of these names is likely
to be much harder when it comes to the WTO talks in Cancun later
this year.

The European Union and Canada have signed an agreement which grants protection to a raft of wine and spirit terms relating to European and Canadian products.

The EU is fighting hard for the protection of a large number of terms, including food products such as Parma ham and feta cheese, but the majority of those in wide use elsewhere in the world relate to wine and spirits, with terms such as Champagne and Cognac frequently used to denote sparkling wine and brandy.

Under the terms of the current agreement, which mirrors an earlier deal with South Africa in 1999, both the EU and Canada will commit to the protection of each other's geographical indications for wines and spirits.

The generic use of the names Chablis, Champagne, port/Porto and sherry must be phased out by the end of 2013, while Bourgogne/Burgundy, Rhin/Rhine, Sauterne/Sauternes must not be used after 2008, except of course for products made in those regions of Europe. The generic use of terms Bordeaux, Chianti, Claret, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Medoc/Médoc, and Mosel/Moselle must be phased out as soon as the agreement comes into force.

Two spirit terms are also included in the agreement - Italian grappa and Greek ouzo - and these generic terms must be phased out within two years. In exchange, the EC will protect Rye Whisky as a distinctive product of Canada.

Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Fisheries, said the agreement was balanced and secured the EU's key negotiating objectives. "Canada is very good customer for European wines and spirits. However, the past decade has been characterised by some level of trade friction, not least on the question of the use of European names. This agreement resolves nearly all the outstanding issues and provides a solid framework for the harmonious development of bilateral commerce."

The agreement also ensures that winemaking practices and whisky standards in both Canada and the EU conform to strict quality criteria.

The EU is facing increasing opposition to its attitude towards geographical indications, which are likely to figure prominently at the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun later this year. Many countries, including such powerful players as the US, believe the EU's position smacks of protectionism, and that many food and drink product names have become so generic that Europe has no right to claim them for itself.

With EU countries themselves falling out over the recent decision to grant GI protection to Greek feta cheese - even though Denmark makes more of it than Greece - the battle is far from won within the EU itself.

While it is harder to argue the case for Champagne or Bordeaux as generic terms than it is for feta - after all, wine more than almost any other product is affected by the place in which it is made - critics of the EU's stance have a point when they argue that the bloc has been extremely heavy handed and inflexible in its position on such a wide range of terms.

But the importance of these names to producers is far greater than might be thought. Bordeaux wine producers, currently exhibiting their wares at the biannual Vinexpo exhibition, have long stressed the importance of the Bordeaux name, as it is their 'brand' - an important asset when so many wines from that region are made in very small quantities by a large number of small-scale producers.

When the name is seen as a brand, then producers in other parts of the world using that name for their products are having a much greater impact on sales of the genuine product, Bordeaux producers argue, a position which the EU clearly supports.

Experience with in the EU itself has shown that consumers can make the switch from local products called by generic names - for example, British fortified wines were once called by the generic name 'sherry' without too much problem for producers, and with the drinks industry in particular already boasting a large number of 'copycat' products, there is always a market, and a price point for branded and generic products.

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