For B.C. wine producers, 2019 brings the certainty of uncertainty
British Columbia’s award-winning wine industry depends on stable trade. And when it comes to the recently negotiated U.S. Mexico Canada trade agreement which effectively replaces NAFTA, the questions outnumber the answers.
“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” explains Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the B.C. Wine Institute.
Under the terms of the updated and newly named accord, American wine producers can no longer be shut out of any future B.C. grocery outlets which win approval to carry wine. This situation was created after the BC-only practise was deemed discriminatory – and contrary to the “America First” mantra of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Prodan readily admits the current situation remains somewhat unclear – but convinced that the B.C. Wine Institute’s 21 licenses have grandfather protection and won’t be impacted by the new trade guidelines coming into force November 1, 2019.
Prodan says industry officials are still at a loss to explain what the future might hold and how hard it will hit B.C. vintners. What is clear is the grocery store model has resulted in sharply higher sales for small wineries – and that model is about to change.
However, as B.C. wine faces competition on grocery shelves, don’t expect anyone in the industry to back away from what appears to be a David vs. Goliath battle.
“Bring it on” says Vicki Collett, co-owner of Harper’s Trail Estate Winery in Kamloops. With nearly three dozen wine industry awards to their name, Collett is convinced that Harper’s Trail and other B.C. wineries can compete – and won’t hesitate to remind customers during their holiday open house (ovember 24th & 25th.
For his part, Prodan admits to being both surprised and disappointed by American complaints about the province’s grocery store wine sales policy, pointing out that since 1988, U.S. wine sales in Canada have increased 13% to $503.9 million.
“We’re really unclear as to how the Americans see themselves being harmed or disadvantaged,” says Prodan.
But obviously British Columbia’s wine industry is making the giants in the business nervous; Canada is seen as one of the world’s few growing wine markets, and the U.S. and Australia have both filed wine marketing complaints against B.C. with the World Trade Organization.
But B.C. wineries may hold a home field advantage in this particular battle. It’s hardly a secret that Donald Trump has few fans in Canada; the Made in Canada label would seem to have an edge – so long as quality isn’t sacrificed. As Prodan points out, consumers vote with their wallets.
“By that measure, we must be doing something right.”
Until next time, cheers!
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Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.