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Australia to take on Canada in the WTO

Published:  17 January, 2018

Australia has launched a dispute settlement action against Canada’s “discriminatory measures” affecting Australian wine at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Steven Ciobo, trade, tourism and investment minister, this morning announced Australia had taken the first step in commencing formal consultations with Canada regarding measures believed by Australia to impose “arbitrary and disadvantageous restrictions” on the sale of imported wine in Canadian grocery stores, inconsistent with Canada’s WTO obligations.

The step responded to concerns from the Australian wine industry regarding the Canadian measures, which Ciobo said negatively impacted trade with Australia’s fourth largest export market for wine, currently valued at $185 million.

“Australia strongly supports the multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its heart. One of the key strengths of the WTO is it disputes system, which ensures WTO Members comply fully with their commitments,” he said, adding while it would have been preferable to resolve the issue bilaterally, it was appropriate to commence dispute proceedings given the lack of progress.

Welcoming the announcement, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) said it was “delighted” the Australian government had decided to take action.

“Wine sales in Canada are controlled by provincial liquor boards which have introduced a number of measures that discriminate in favour of locally produced wine. We respect the Canadian wine industry, but we are seeking a level playing field to ensure we can maximise our opportunities in this key market,” said chief executive, Tony Battaglene.

The action follows the US launching its own WTO trade dispute settlement action against Canada in January 2017 regarding ‘Measures Governing the Sale of Wine in Grocery Stores’, which Australia joined as a third-party observer.

Australia last initiated formal WTO action in 2003.