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Posted: Thursday, February 05 2009. 12:10

Editorial: Follow Singapore for Wines on Show

To promote wine trading activities and help develop the wine industry, the Singapore Government has recently announced that at approved wine exhibitions and conferences, duty exemption and VAT relief will be granted on up to three bottles of wine per label per day, reports Wine for Asia.

This would encourage the exhibitors to bring in more labels. If there are 8 labels, the saving of duties for a 3 day-show can be the equivalent of 6 cases of wine- a substantial savings for the exhibitors that will encourage them to bring in more labels.

With the Hong Kong government snatching the progressive initiatives from Singapore by making wine imports duty free, and the present recession, the Singapore government appears to have acted in a business-like fashion to help the local citizens meet the challenges.

The news report should be a good lesson for the Indian authorities. It is extremely important for us to understand that wine is not a commodity and has to be tasted before any purchases can be made. This process of tasting in fact, starts from the producer and the winemaker and ends up at the consumer's glass. Exhibitors, importers, F&B personnel, retailers need to taste to make buying decisions.

A step similar to the Singapore government's initiative needs to be taken by the Indian customs and excise departments. It will be a good and positive step towards better and cheaper sampling at the wine shows. Surely, the authorities understand that the limited liberalized policy will not result in any misuse. The Show has to be an approved and recognized one. They could put a clause of, say 3-years before the relaxation may be given-something similar to the duty exemption already being given to the hotels earning foreign exchange.

Additionally, the procedural relaxation needs to be given at the excise levels. During the last 6 years or so, since wine expos started in a small way, the excise authorities have become increasingly, though selectively, liberal and understanding of the business nuances and the sincerity of the show organisers. The procedures have been fairly relaxed progressively.

But it is difficult to understand why they do not allow the sample bottles to be taken out of the shows. The customs and excise duties have been paid on the bottles. It is a universal practice to encourage the importers and the other potential clients to take the samples home and try it wit other tasters or with food. But the excise department, which mercifully, does allow the tasting at the stands now, is very dogmatic about letting the bottles be taken out. At a recent IFOWS wine show, the strictness was stifling- one embassy even called our office seeking our help and to check up on the excise laws as the exhibitors were extremely upset that the samples they wanted to give to the potential importers were not being allowed out.

I did explain to them that this was due to the archaic excise laws being followed. I believe it is time for the department to take a pragmatic look at the situation. The total number of samples allowed for the show can be restricted. Once the bottles are imported for the show, what is the exhibitor expected to do with the left-over samples anyway? I have been at the London Wine Show where on the last day the exhibitors simply walked out of their stands leaving all the bottles crying on the shelves. The visitors were welcome to take away cartloads.

Surely, that would result in a riot here, bringing in CNN. But if the exhibitor lets the trade people carry home some samples that should be no fly on anyone's nose. Mind you, the customs and the excise duties would have been paid already. Our babus are intelligent enough to device a system so that there is no mass misuse of the trade practice.

The government ought to realize they are the business partners with the importers- more these guys import, more money in the government coffers-even if the wine in the bottle does not turn out as delicious as it says on the label. 

 Incidentally, the next edition of Wine For Asia 2009 to be held at Suntec Singapore from 22 - 24 October 2009 is slated to feature a number of other new initiatives as well to add breadth and depth to the sourcing requirements of wine buyers.

Subhash Arora

February 5, 2009

       

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