Winemakers Raise Glass to Canada Complaint

Winemakers are toasting the federal government’s attempts to pressure Canada into stocking Australian wines on its supermarket shelves.

Australia has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organisation in protest at the way Canada applies rules over the sale of Australian wine.

Australian winemakers have long complained about what they describe as “protectionist” Canadian measures.

“In recent years, (Canadian) liquor boards have introduced a number of measures that discriminate in favour of locally-produced wine,” Winemakers’ Federation of Australia chief executive Tony Battaglene said.

“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.”

Imported wines in Canada sold in supermarkets are meant to be pushed into a “store within a store” with separate shelves and cash registers, while Canadian wines can be kept on regular grocery store shelves.

Australia says so far no Canadian supermarkets have set up a “store with a store” because of the onerous requirements.

There are also extra mark-ups on imported wine and separate distribution channels.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said Australia’s $200 million share in the Canadian market was evaporating.

Mr Ciobo denied the action was a sour-grapes response to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s snub of other world leaders during talks on a new Trans-Pacific Partnership deal at APEC last November.

Canada has 60 days to settle the wine war.

Afterwards, Australia could ask the WTO to adjudicate, with a view to forcing Canada to change its laws or risk trade sanctions.

The Canadian government says it works closely with all of its provinces and territories to ensure liquor distribution and sales policies are consistent with its international trade commitments.

A spokesman for Canada’s international trade minister says the North American nation will also give “careful consideration” to consultation requests from any WTO member.