A B.C. wine advocate says he’s less concerned with a recent World Trade Organization complaint over B.C. wine’s exclusive spot on grocery store shelves, and more interested in seeing free trade in Canada.
The U.S. filed a second complaint to the WTO this week over the monopoly B.C. wine has on the shelves of 60 grocery stores in the province, which have taken on B.C. Wine Institute licences that only allow B.C. wines on the shelves.
But BCWI president and CEO Miles Prodan said while BCWI licences have been the only ones to make their way to grocery stores, there’s nothing stopping private licences in the stores, which would allow imports on the shelves.
“If you look at it from the outside, it seems that the only one in grocery today is B.C. wine, and that’s true, but it’s not from lack of other opportunities,” Prodan said. “It’s just that they haven’t been acted on, yet.”
The U.S. has also indicated Canadian wine will be in the crosshairs during NAFTA talks, which have been ongoing since August.
Generally the B.C. wine industry has taken issue with the U.S. complaints, when it’s typically been the U.S. product flooding Canadian markets rather than the other way around.
According to a slide show put together by the Canadian Vintners Association, while U.S. wine makes up 14.2 per cent of wine sales in Canada, Canadian wine reportedly doesn’t even make up a percentage point of wine sales in the U.S.
“When you look at what the Americans stated was their interest in reopening NAFTA, was because of trade imbalance. So for whatever reason they thought they were getting a raw deal, or wanted to negotiate a better deal,” Prodan said.
“When you take a look at wine, clearly that surplus in wine exports they have in this country shows that there is a surplus. There is no deficit, so opening up the negotiations because they are harmed or worried about a trade deficit in wine makes no sense.”
The U.S. reportedly exports about $480.5 million (CAD) in wine to Canada, while Canada sends just over $8 million in wine across the border the other way.
In fact, in the past Canada has opened up its market to U.S. wine, removing tariffs on the product — a move which caused fears of U.S. wine flooding the market, but turned around with some benefits to Canadian wine.
“In the Province of British Columbia, they tore out close to 90 per cent of everything that was planted to re-establish the vines to more traditional grape growing varieties,” he said. “Thank goodness they did, because the quality right now is what we’re enjoying today.”
He admitted that was an improvement from some added competition, adding he feels the B.C. wine industry will manage anything the U.S. throws at it.
“But what we really want to do is ship B.C. wine to customers in Alberta or in Ontario,” he said. “Canadian free trade is missing on 100 per cent Canadian wine, so that’s really where the opportunities lie for our industry.”
Although B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia have largely left open interprovincial liquor shipments after the federal government opened it up a couple years ago, many provinces filled the void left by the feds, according to Prodan.
“There was maybe a little worry once we did that that people would start drinking more Ontario than B.C. wine, but that hasn’t been the case, and we won’t worry about that competition,” he said. “In the end, the consumers decide, right. We can’t force people to pretend Ontario doesn’t make wine and they can’t order it and drink it.”
But in Ontario, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario holds a monopoly on what liquors can be sold where — and it largely works to protect the local wines.
“Most of our wineries are much too small producers to really get a listing or for the LCBO to consider carrying their wine,” Prodan said, noting B.C.’s wine is about a third of the size of Ontario’s.
“We’re just too small, too tiny, so the LCBO is not incented to do that. There’s a great example of why are we unable to ship our wine to an Ontario consumer because the LCBO is not going to carry it anyway.”