Prosecco is just the tip of the EU trade war iceberg
AUSTRALIA and the European Union are set to deliver a trade deal that could immensely benefit both sides and promote the kind of free trade and opportunity that saw the Western world triumph as the Berlin Wall fell and the forces of authoritarianism were vanquished once and for all. Or were they?
As with any deal, the devil is in the details. And if our government isn't careful, it could end up trading away the rights and interests of Australian businesses and consumers to placate the whims of Brussels-based bureaucrats and social engineers driven by a combination of nanny state fetishism and, ironically enough, old-fashioned European nativism.
Take the war on Prosecco as just one example. Despite Australian winemakers growing and harvesting prosecco grapes for over a century, Italians now want to effectively own the drink via a geographical indicator - similar to the French, who carved out a special protection for champagne - to protect their country's prosecco region.
But unlike champagne, which can only be produced from the Champagne region and must adhere to strict production requirements, prosecco refers to both a region of origin and the grapes themselves. Production also permits up to 15 per cent infusion from non-prosecco grape varieties.
For their protectionist bid to work, Italian prosecco makers need to effectively rewrite history. In 2009, they legally renamed the grape variety to "glera" and defined prosecco as simply their wine's region of origin. "Prosecco" was soon granted geographical indicator protection by the EU.
This scheme quickly paid dividends by undermining the product recognition of prosecco makers in other parts of Europe, and if EU-based lobbyists and bureaucrats have their way, the same ban could take effect in Australia, causing immense damage to our prosecco makers and their workers.
The pinch is already being felt, with Japan banning Australians from exporting products under the prosecco name. And Italians have applied for similar bans in India, New Zealand, Malaysia and China.
What those fighting for the bans seem to be ignoring, though, is that many of those hurt by the change include small, independent vineyards operated by Italians and who arrived as immigrants in Australia, and their descendants.
Really, though, prosecco is just the tip of the iceberg in these negotiations.
Gruyere and feta cheese, scotch beef, and hundreds of other products which are the lifeblood of many of our regions are now at stake too.
Not only is our consumer welfare and choice at stake if the EU has its way, but our very national sovereignty itself.
Britons voted to leave the EU in 2016, citing concerns about its leviathan, undemocratic bureaucracy and draconian rules that have unfairly hurt many British industries.
Australia should absolutely pursue a free trade deal with the EU that allows producers and goods to genuinely compete. But this won't be the case if we give into demands that artificially favour foreign farmers and winemakers while undermining our own.
Given that Minister Simon Birmingham has acknowledged many of these issues, yet has still said that a deal will be signed as long as Australia is not worse off "overall", we should all be concerned.
Satya Marar is the Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance.