- Australia-EU FTA hangs in balance as debate continues on the names of agri-food and wine products
- Prosecco, feta amongst common items whose names could be changed
- Australian wine producers and grape growers can lose millions if Australia gives in to EU
The name ‘Glera’ would sound unfamiliar to most Australians right now.
But it can soon become the way you order or buy locally-produced extra dry sparkling wine hitherto known and widely enjoyed as prosecco.
That is, if Australia agrees to the request made by the European Union to protect the geographical indication (GI) of many European agri-food and wine products in the context of the negotiations of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two.
“A GI is essentially an indicator that tells consumers that there is a connection between a product and a place,” explains Dr Paula Zito, solicitor and lecturer of law at the University of South Australia.
GI is a big, hot topic of the FTA discussions.
DR PAULA ZITO, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Europe’s list of GI tags to be protected includes Greek feta cheese, Spanish queso castellano and French Auvergne ham. And of course, Italian Prosecco.
It has been almost five years since the start of negotiations for an FTA between Australia and the European Union.
The EU is Australia’s second-largest economic partner.
Bilateral trade between the two continents increased steadily in recent years to surpass the $80 billion-dollar mark in 2021.
Santo Stefano in Veneto, Italy, is renowned for the production of prosecco. Credit: Franz Aberham/Getty Images
The FTA could improve exchanges in goods and services between the two partners by around a third, making it the largest trade deal ever signed by Australia.
Even though the agreement may represent an important financial injection into the post-COVID economic recovery and despite the 14 rounds of negotiations held since 2018, the agreement is still hanging over the unresolved issue of GI.
Italy’s crusade to secure Prosecco’s naming rights is making the negotiations go especially cold and particularly bubbly.
Prosecco: a war bubbling away on paper
Discussions between Australia and Europe around the dry sparkling wine have earned the title of “The Prosecco Wars,” such has been the sparkle around this chapter of the negotiations’ saga.
If Australia were to agree to protect Prosecco as a GI [tag], it would mean that Australian wine producers and grape-growers would not be able to label their wines using that name.
Dr Zito has compared GI systems in Australia and Europe in her Ph. D.
“Obviously, Australia is saying that it would be unfair because prosecco is a common word and not a geographical indication.”
Prosecco is the name of a town in the province of Trieste, Italy, that is part of an area in the northeast where the production of the sparkling was initiated in the 16th century.
But the term ‘prosecco’ has come to indicate the type of wine and not the geographical area in recent times.
In 2009, in an effort to protect the integrity of the product, the then-Italian minister for agriculture created a “designation of controlled origin” (DOC) to indicate that only the sparkling wines produced in a specific area in the northeast of Italy could be labelled ‘Prosecco’ and renamed the grape as ‘Glera’ to differentiate all the wines produced outside the DOC.
“The impact this decision has had is that from that moment, imports to Europe of products called ‘prosecco’ have been stopped because only sparkling wine produced in the protected area can be labelled so,” explains Dr Zito.
Rolle village & prosecco vineyards, Veneto, Italy. Credit: Peter Adams/Getty Images
“The evidence speaks for itself,” says Prof Mark Davison, who teaches law at Melbourne’s Monash University.
“Prosecco has been recognised as the name of a grape for centuries, but not as a geographical indication,” he adds.
Protecting the term as a geographical indication is a cynical attempt to avoid competition from Australian wine producers.
PROF MARK DAVISON, MONASH UNIVERSITY
He curated a from Monash University and Macquarie University collecting evidence to demonstrate the extensive historical proof of prosecco being a grape variety and its broad international acceptance as such.
The Italian side of the barricade
According to Coldiretti – the Italian peak body representing the country’s farming sector – in 2022, Italian prosecco exports were worth 28.5 million euros with an increase of 7 per cent compared with the previous year.
Australians drink around 9 million bottles of the Italian bubbly, out of the 700 million bottles Italy produces each year.
Coldiretti estimated the loss of sales of Italian prosecco in Australia at 150 million euros in terms of lost turnover for Italian producers, and about 300 million euros in terms of the sales value of the Australian market.
Australian producers are clearly benefiting from the success of the Italian prosecco.
DOMENICO BOSCO, COLDIRETTI, ITALY
“Italian excellence is imitated all over the world,” remarks Domenico Bosco, head of the Wine Office and Beer Supply Chain of Coldiretti.
“The problem is not only the appropriation of the economic value and image of these products but that these non-original products end up misleading and confusing the consumer about the true characteristics of the original and quality products,” he adds.
Prosecco: a ‘migrant product’
Glera, the name of the prosecco grape variety, could be the new name on the labels of Prosecco-style wines produced in Australia if Europe gets its way.
A scenario that Otto Dal Zotto cannot even begin to fathom.
“My stomach rebels at the thought,” he tells SBS Italian.
Mr Dal Zotto claims to have pioneered prosecco in Australia in his family estate in northeast Victoria’s King Valley where he planted the first vines in 1999.
“In Australia, you couldn’t get a decent prosecco, and I wanted something that reminded me of home,” he says.
Mr Dal Zotto’s childhood memories are intertwined with the prosecco vine.
“I remember crossing the vineyard and picking grapes from the vines on my way to school,” he reminisces.
He was born in Valdobbiadene, a wine-growing area in northern Italy below the Alpine-Dolomite areas of Veneto which is part of the geographical area that now Italy wants protected.
Prosecco is a migrant product, like me.
OTTO DAL ZOTTO, ITALIAN-AUSTRALIAN GRAPE-GROWER
“To develop the product and introduce Australia to the culture of prosecco, we invested a lot of money from our pockets.
“If Australia decides to accept Europe’s conditions, we would have to put our hands in our pockets and start all over again,” he adds with concern.
“Why didn’t they start this thing 30 or 40 years ago?
“Because there was no market in Australia then and now, they come and tell us: the market is ours,” says Mr Dalzotto.
Our advice to the Australian government is to not bow to pressure from the EU and back Australian producers’ rights to use the grape variety named prosecco.
LEE MCLEAN, CEO, AUSTRALIAN GRAPE & WINE ASSOCIATION
“We are not entertaining any scenario in which we cannot use the grape variety’s name,” he adds,” says Lee McLean, CEO of the Australian Grape & Wine Association.
The variety, he explains, is worth more than $200 million for Australia’s wine sector in terms of the value of production.
The investments in vineyards, wine-making facilities and regional tourism go well beyond this.
Senior couple drinking wine and admiring the Duomo, Florence, Italy Credit: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images
“If the government gave up our right to use the grape variety’s name, it would be devastating for growers and winemakers across more than 20 regions in Australia,” adds Mr McLean.
But Mr Bosco of Coldiretti argues against his logic.
“The cultural argument is very true: we are proud of the extraordinary creative abilities and enterprise of fellow Italians, even those who migrated abroad.
“But we cannot afford to create a precedent that damages the Italian product,” argues Mr Bosco.
“We sympathise with the cultural argument put forward by the producers, but I would suggest they fight to value their wines, which are unique.
“It is the places of production that give these peculiar characteristics to Australian wines. Why call it prosecco when I am producing excellence in the King Valley,” Mr Bosco questions.
Wanting to use the term ‘prosecco,’ is a short-term shortcut which in the long run would not give the right value to Australian products.
For Dr Zito, the agreement could represent an opportunity to enhance Australian products instead of promoting the Italian brand.
Will Australia say cheers to changing the name of prosecco? Credit: Ellen Mcelhinney / EyeEm/Getty Images
“The product that is created in Australia, in the end, tastes different, there’s a different link between product and place.
“I see this as an opportunity to promote the connection between the Australian products and the Australian region and to promote Australian GI instead of promoting the competitor GI,” she suggests.
According to official sources, the FTA is expected to be signed this year and new meetings are expected in the coming weeks.
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