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Singapore ban on Australian Prosecco sets ‘dangerous precedent’, says AGW

In November, Singapore’s Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Italian Prosecco Consortium on a labelling dispute with Australia. Now, winemakers down under say the decision threatens their sales. Nimmi Malhotra reports.

Ban on Aussie Prosecco in Singapore sets a ‘dangerous precedent’, says AGWI

Italian Prosecco will now be registered as a Geographical Indication in Singapore for the first time.

Australian producers are therefore prohibited from exporting Australian ‘Prosecco’ to Singapore, following the first ever Court of Appeals decision on GIs.

The ruling came in November 2023, when the Prosecco DOC Consortium won a Geographical Indication (GI) registration dispute against Australian winemaker’s body Australian Grape and Wine Inc. (AGW) in Singapore.

Australian producers making sparkling wines from the Glera grape (used in Italy to make Prosecco) refer to the grape itself as Prosecco, and label bottles as such.

The Italian consortium’s victory followed a four-year battle on the subject, and culminated in an irrevocable decision that Australian sparkling wine can no longer be exported to Singapore as ‘Prosecco’.

A four-year battle

The dispute took four years to resolve. In 2019, the Delegation of the European Union in Singapore, with the support of the Italian Embassy in Singapore, registered Prosecco as a GI with the newly minted Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

Soon after, AGW filed a notice to oppose the registration. In 2022, the decision by the Singapore High Courts swung in favour of AGW and spurred the Italian consortium to take the case to Singapore’s highest court, the Appeals Court.

While the Appeals Court agreed with the Australian body’s claim that “Prosecco” was the name of a grape variety, it ruled against them, stating that the proposed GI will likely mislead Singapore consumers who may think that all Prosecco wines originate from Italy when some are produced in Australia.

Ban on Aussie Prosecco in Singapore sets a ‘dangerous precedent’, says AGWI

Big win

The European Union Ambassador to Singapore, Iwona Piórko, welcomed the decision, calling it “a key success of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement”.

She said: “The economic value of EU GI exports to Singapore is estimated at over €1 billion (£859m) annually, mainly comprising wines and spirits. The registration of GIs in Singapore offers a solid framework of intellectual property protection against any misuse or imitation.”

Registration of a GI in a country is dependent on a high number of export sales.

In the case of Prosecco, Italy exported €2.7 million (£2.3m) worth of Prosecco to Singapore in 2022, a 52% increase on the export figures registered in 2021 (€1.8m/£1.6m), as confirmed by the Italian Trade Agency.

In 2023, the total value of Australian ‘Prosecco’ production was estimated at around AU$200m (£103m). However, about 95% of this is sold on the Australian domestic market, and only 5% is available for export.

Australian producers had earmarked Singapore and other Asian countries as future growth markets, but to date 82% of the exports of Australian Prosecco (worth AU$5.6m/£2.9m) go to New Zealand.

Australia’s disappointment

Lee Mclean, president of the AGW, expressed his disappointment at the ruling. He pointed out the importance of the judgement in establishing Prosecco as a grape variety name.

Mclean told the drinks business: “The ability for producers to use longstanding grape variety names (or any other legitimate plant variety name) is an important principle of free trade.

“This principle needs to be upheld in the case of Prosecco. If it is not, we fear there is potential for a dangerous precedent to be set for other grape variety names.”

This is the first ruling on GIs in the Singapore Appeals Court, which echoes a similar ruling upheld in Beijing, China in 2022.

A ban on the sales of Australian Prosecco in New Zealand in 2022 was implemented as a part of NZ- EU trade deal which requires Australian Prosecco sales to be phased out in New Zealand over five years. Notably, a similar registration for Prosecco GI was denied in the US market in 2019.

How Australian Prosecco producers adapt to these changes remains to be seen. For now, Mclean said he would discuss the issue with producers.

He said: “Efforts to counter this in third markets take a lot of time and large investment. That can’t be done alone by our sector which is currently under significant economic strain with increased cost of production, natural disasters, and oversupply amongst other things.”

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