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Spain joins battle against Euro wine regulations

16 July 2007

BRUSSELS – Europe’s wine-making nations went into battle Monday against European Union plans to change the way the bloc makes and markets wine to try to reverse falling sales.

Led by France and Germany, producers including Spain objected to parts of the plan that would see the end of some subsidies, ripping up vines and adopting New World practices like adding sugar and using wood chips to add body to wine.

German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer said the plans drafted by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel “needed to be changed,” while France’s Farm Minister Michel Barnier said “it was important to protect France’s traditions” in making wine.

Portugal’s Agriculture Minister Jaime Silva, whose country holds the EU presidency and who was leading Monday’s talks, also raised concerns over the reform.

“There are proposals there that are very difficult for some member states, including Portugal,” Silva said. “For example, a total liberalization (of the sector) that risks posing enormous problems in certain regions.”

The early objections reflect widespread opposition from major wine-producing countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and others against the drastic reforms, which major farmer lobbies have also campaigned against.

The draft reform plans were being discussed by EU farm ministers for the first time since Fischer Boel presented them earlier this month. She has appealed to EU governments to reform the wine sector, cutting overproduction or risk further decline against cheaper wines from other continents, suggesting that change might even include sacrificing certain centuries-old wine-making traditions.

The proposal calls for European wine makers adopting New World practices like adding wood chips to wine but banning the widespread tradition of adding sugar to give the wine more body.

Seehofer criticized Fischer Boel’s plans to ban adding sugar to wine, saying other wine-producing countries outside of Europe continued to do so.

“Sugar is permitted in agreements with the United States, so we cannot explain to German wine cultivators why this should be forbidden in Europe,” Seehofer said.

He also rejected proposals to simplify wine labels on European wines, adding that the label on a wine bottle “has nothing to do with overproduction.”

Fischer Boel argues that years of overproduction and falling sales of non-premium wines has left Europe’s wine sector at a major disadvantage compared to rivals in Australia, South America, South Africa and the United States, which are taking an increasing share of the world’s wine market.

Her plans suggests pulling up unprofitable vineyards, ending subsidies for massive and costly distillation of unsellable wine into industrial products and making production and labeling more consumer-friendly.

She also wants to simplify and streamline the system of geographical origins to make them more attractive to consumers, which for some goes too far.

The European Commission has warned that the EU has been wasting billions of euros a year in the production of wine and distillation where it should be shifting such money to better promote wines in emerging markets in Asia and at home where wine consumption is dropping.

Fischer Boel has said EU producers face a drop in market share, with imports from New World wines into Europe increasing 10 percent a year.

The Commission wants a wine overhaul in place by the 2008 harvest, however a quick deal seems unlikely given the opposition the reforms facing.

[Copyright AP with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news