Not in true spirit

Published: Thursday 15 May 2003

If the battle over failed farm trade talks in the World Trade Organisation (wto) wasn't enough, Brussels and Canberra look likely to clash again as eu members begin discussions on whether to allow imports of Australian wine treated with oak chips. Oak chips accelerate the process of flavouring the wine, which normally requires it to be stored in wooden barrels for a long period of time.

There are health risks associated with the practice of using oak chips, which are already banned in the eu. Traditional European winemakers are also believed to loathe such methods. A European Commission official is reported to have said, "It's a philosophical question. Purists believe that such a thing should not happen."

Others argue that this is simply an attempt to protect the European wine industry, now facing competition from countries such as Australia. Reports indicate that a strong coalition of members including France, Italy, Portugal and Spain are behind the move.

Having gained enormous popularity globally, the Australian wine industry has steadily increased its exports in recent times. Australia has already toppled France from the position of being the leading supplier to the uk, and the Australian product is also fast outselling Italian wines in the us.

The eu coalition's move therefore seems a trade-restrictive measure against Australia, given that member nations permit wine imports from the us and Chile under special bilateral agreements.

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