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Delhi Wine Club
Blog: Having Freedom of Choice for Wines

Posted: Tuesday, 01 October 2013 16:16

Blog: Having Freedom of Choice for Wines

Oct 01: There are always questions being raised on whether I promote Indian or non-Indian wines but I strongly believe in the true internationalization of wines with the world as the canvas for wine availability, but keeping in mind that the Indian industry and the serious players are not blown away by the Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) underway or any other policy even though the proposed FTA talks are currently under the threat of being pushed to the back burner.

I recently met a senior diplomat from the European Union who told me that from his perspective, I was against the Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) because it would hurt the Indian industry. On the other hand, I am often blamed by the Indian producers who feel I am not promoting Indian wines enough-especially when one considers the wines served at the dinners at the Delhi Wine Club of which I am the founder President and even today after the 215th wine dinner in 11 years, I feel as passionately about the dinners and the wines as I was for the first event.

Not only that, my European friends sometime tell me I promote wines from regions other than they would like me to. An Italian outgoing ambassador told the DWC members at his farewell dinner that he loved that I promoted Italian wines. But he was not too happy that I was promoting French and Chilean and other wines too. At an evening of ‘After French Paradox’, when I announced the wine dinner for the Delhi Wine Club with Italian wines, the then French Ambassador, though in a lighter vein, did comment that I was already promoting Italian wines at a French event. I have always instantly retorted that I promote wines. Period! Nationalities are not important to me-let the people decide what they like.

I am usually very impressed by the accurate perception formed so astutely by the diplomats. But I am rather shocked and amused by the incorrect opinion formed by him. As would be obvious to the international producers, consumers, journalists and whosoever comes my way that I promote wine as a culture-because I believe in it. I believe in the health benefits, I believe in the lifestyle aspect of it and by a convoluted logic, I sincerely believe that over a couple of generations, it will bring down the consumption of alcohol in India.

But what has all this got to do with the Treaty? I have maintained all along that unless the Indian wines compete with the foreign wines-either in exports or at the home turf where imported wines should be easily available, the quality cannot improve to the international levels. It has such a huge agricultural potential which is currently being ignored by the myopic politicians who do not see beyond the next general elections. They don’t seem to understand that India must aspire to be world leaders in wine production in the next 30-50 years.

It is in this context that, despite the diplomat’s misgivings, I feel the FTA between EU and India would be extremely useful. The benefits from other exchange of goods and services between the two giants notwithstanding, it will bring down the duties on high priced wines to an extent that the availability would be much more. Not only would it help the quality of Indian wines improve, it also offers the Indian consumers who can reasonably well afford it, an opportunity to taste and enjoy wines from different countries including India, regions including the potentially suitable regions that require research, sub-regions and even grape flavours. I see nothing wrong in that so long as we can afford to import cars, appliances, electronics, toys and thousands of products which we are increasingly importing.

I am also of the opinion that the reduction of duties across the board would be harmful to the Industry. In fact, I am on record being the first person saying that the Indian producers would suffer if they accept the duty reduction on low end wines. I wonder if that statement irked the diplomat-in which case I would reiterate that I would like the Indian industry to fight tooth and nail to oppose any reduction not mandatory according to our WTO Agreement for low end wines the threshold of which for me would be around $3 and not $4 that was being bandied about by the Indian media as if it had been agreed upon or as if the treaty had been signed.

Talking of the signing, I have been cautioning the EU through my writings and wherever I had the opportunity for a direct talk (starting from November 2011) that the EU must push the treaty through before June 2013, the process will be derailed otherwise–at least till the next general elections. I have written recently that according to my sources in Europe, the talks have already been put on the back burner. Not that either side (Indian government and EU) may admit it but only time will tell. I sincerely hope this is one time I am proven wrong because that would be the true victory for the Indian wine consumer.

I should also clarify for the eyes of non-Indians that a majority of politicians themselves are fond of the tipple. If there were a law asking the politicians to declare if they are teetotalers, along with their wealth status, the majority would fail the test. It’s the public opinion, a section of the vocal ones at any rate, about whom they are concerned as they are their vote banks.

While at the subject of quality, one should not forget the US example. Despite the prohibition and still dogged by many of the policies of the 1919-1933 prohibition era, the quality has made unprecedented jumps since the 1960s. This came about not by banning imported wines, but improving their own quality and importing technology, especially from France. The example of ‘live and let live’ model works out best for the USA and should be encouraged in India. Most producers believe that the domestic industry would always have more consumption of the domestic produce. Italy, France and Spain are good examples but even in the relatively new entrants into the wine arena like Australia have adopted strategies to encourage the domestic market growth.

I would love to see the relatively free style of the US where both the domestic producers thrive side-by-side with the importers. The domestic wines must compete with better products all the times. That is when the consumer will have the satisfaction of drinking not only variety by better quality - be it Indian or imported.

I hope the day is not very far when we would have both the Indian and imported wine industry thrive on the basis of merits-even though the expensive imported wines may attract the reasonable duties of 30-40%.

And talking of not promoting Indian wines enough, the next wine dinner of the Delhi Wine Club in October has already been planned with Indian wines! Watch out for details in a future edition of delWine

Subhash Arora  

Tags: Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA)



Alok Chandra Says:

I heartily agree with the sentiments expressed, Subhash: wine is worth promoting, whatever the origin. Too, the Indian wine industry will not grow and prosper till reform of state regulatory and tax mechanisms facilitate volumes and profitability, and encourage investments in quality and distribution.

Posted @ October 11, 2013 11:15


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