Stalemate in the fight to save Australian prosecco

The future of Australian prosecco remains in doubt after Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell failed to reach an agreement with the European Union.

Farrell flew to Brussels this week to continue Australia-European Union free trade agreement negotiations.

Australia wants greater trade access for beef, lamb, sugar, cheese and rice exports into the EU, while Europe wants Australian producers to give up the use of terms such as prosecco, mozzarella, feta and parmesan. The EU claims they are geographical indicators and their use should be restricted to products originating from the specific regions.

Fears for Australian prosecco market

Under a previous deal with the EU, Australian winemakers lost the right to the name champagne in 2010 and they fear prosecco is next.

The total value of Australian prosecco production in Australia has grown from just over $60 million in 2017 to an estimated $205 million in 2021, according to Australian Grape & Wine.

“Our position is definitely that we should be able to continue with the existing arrangements – using the name prosecco – as it is definitely a grape variety,” Australian Grape & Wine director of government relations Lisa Scott told The New Daily.

“The purpose of free trade agreements is to improve access and reduce barriers to trade, not to impose barriers to trade.”

Natalie Pizzini at Pizzini Wines said prosecco accounted for about 25 per cent of sales at the winery in Victoria’s King Valley and rebranding would cost millions of dollars.

“[If the results of the FTA negotiations are] that we are not allowed to use the name prosecco, which is the name of the grape variety, then what grape variety is next?” she said.

“Could it be pinot grigio? Could it be sangiovese? Could it be chardonnay? Or could it be a Spanish variety?

“That’s concerning … for all grape producers in Australia.”

Fellow King Valley prosecco winemaker Michael Dal Zotto said last season was an “extremely tough vintage,” with crops down between 10 to 40 per cen due to rain putting disease pressure on the crop.

“We’ve sort of focused on prosecco, because that’s the name of the grape variety,” Dal Zotto told ABC News. “So it’d be nerve racking to … think about what would happen if we lost that.”

Farrell unable to finalise agreement

While in Brussels Farrell met with his counterpart, Executive Vice-President and European Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, as well as the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski.

A trade agreement with the EU would unlock an overall market of 445 million people and a GDP of $24 trillion. As a bloc, the EU is Australia’s third-largest trading partner, with total two-way trade (goods and services) worth $97 billion in 2021-22.

Farrell said negotiations “remain difficult and have reached a point where issues vital to Australia’s national interest must be improved”.

During a press conference after his EU meetings Farrell admitted: “This is my third visit to Brussels in the last six months with the objective of trying to finalise a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union. On this occasion we weren’t able to finalise an agreement.

“However, we continue the discussions with the Europeans. Our officials will continue to narrow down the issues that currently divide us with the Europeans. We plan to meet again in August to again see if it’s possible to finalise an agreement.

“My job as Australia’s Trade Minister is to get the best deal that we can for our producers, our businesses and our wine makers. So we will continue constructive discussions with the Europeans with the ultimate aim of reaching an agreement.

“Both of our countries – both of our groups want to reach an agreement. We’ve made that very clear. The Europeans have reiterated that today. They want an agreement. It’s in the interests of both of our groups. We will continue the discussions with a view that as quickly as we can, we can resolve all of the outstanding issues that currently divide us, and achieve a Australia-European free trade agreement.

“We haven’t bridged the gap between what the European Union is offering and what Australian producers, businesses expect out of a free trade agreement. As I said before, my job is to get the best result for Australia. We weren’t able to achieve that on this occasion. I believe we will achieve it, but it’s going to require further negotiations.”

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