New EU-Australian wine GI agreement close to conclusion


Australia and the European Union are in the throes of finalizing the last remaining details on a revised Treaty on Wine that will replace the first such treaty between the two parties signed in January 1994.

Australia's goal in signing the 1994 treaty was to reduce many of the non-tariff barriers to entry into the European Union of Australian wines. The 1994 treaty did this by:

  • limiting the number of analyses the European Union required of Australian wines that are exported into the European Union;

  • allowing Australian winemakers to market wines in the European Union labelled with multi-varietal and multi-origin blends;

  • allowing for the export to the European Union of Australian dessert wine with an alcoholic strength not previously allowed; and

  • prohibiting the European Union from implementing additional certification requirements on imports of Australian wines.

In return, Australia undertook to protect all EU wine geographical indications (GIs) - several thousand wines were listed in the annexes. The resulting protection was based on a registration scheme whereby the GIs listed in the annexes were protected against misuse.

The obligations undertaken in the treaty were entirely mutual so that Australia ensured that EU winemaking practices were allowed in respect of EU wines being imported into Australia and the European Union equally agreed to protect Australian wine GIs in the European Union.

The 1994 treaty provided three phase-out periods for 23 of the EU GIs listed in the annexes and which had been widely misused in Australia - including some which Australia asserted were generic. Australia and the European Union agreed to fix the date of the third phasing-out tranche, which concerned Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Claret, Graves, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Sauternes, Sherry and White Burgundy, by December 31 1997.

The 1994 treaty also established a joint committee between Australia and the European Union which would negotiate, among other things, this final phase-out date and ongoing issues arising under the treaty.

The negotiations have continued since 1994 and crucially, no phase-out date for the third tranche of so-called generic GIs was agreed by December 31 1997 or, indeed, for several years thereafter. The negotiations have been so wide-ranging that the parties agreed to enter into a new treaty to replace the 1994 treaty. The new treaty:

  • fixes the phase-out date for the third tranche of so-called generic names, which is 12 months (in respect of most of them) from the date the new treaty will be signed;

  • provides for inclusion of GIs of the new EU member states;

  • has a smaller list of GIs from Germany than was in the 1994 treaty;

  • incorporates a larger number of accepted viticultural practices;

  • contains provisions dealing with the presentation of wines including both compulsory and optional particulars for inclusion on wine labels; and

  • contains agreement on the acceptance of vine variety names and quality wine terms.

The 1994 treaty also provided that each party would protect the other's traditional expressions and contained a long list of EU traditional expressions. Since signing the 1994 treaty, Australia has not put into effect those treaty provisions, but rather chose to negotiate with the European Union which traditional expressions will actually be protected. The new treaty contains phase-out dates for several key traditional expressions such as Amontillado, Claret, Fino and Oloroso. Other names listed in the 1994 treaty as traditional expressions, such as 'Vintage' in respect of Portugal, have been removed from the annexes.

The new treaty has been in a form substantially identical to its current draft for over two years while the parties have been finalizing issues such as the GIs of the new EU member states and a number of matters where Australian trademark proprietors have raised concerns about registration of new EU GIs that conflict with those trademark rights.

Hopefully, the new treaty will be signed shortly, bringing an end to 13 years of negotiations designed, among other things, to stop the sale of 'Australian Chablis' or 'Australian Port'.

Stephen M Stern, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Melbourne

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content