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EU amends wine labeling rules

24 February 2004

EU amends wine labeling rules: ‘traditional expressions’ can be used by third countries

The European Commission has adopted a set of amendments to its wine labeling regulation, paving the way for so-called ‘traditional expressions’ to be used to describe wines from countries outside Europe.

‘Traditional expressions’ are terms used traditionally to designate quality wines and refer to a production or ageing method, a colour, or a quality etc.

Following the Commission’s decision, requests by third countries to use ‘traditional expressions’ will be considered by the Commission and the Member States, and the right of use will be granted if certain conditions are fulfilled (see below). The two categories of ‘traditional expressions’ used on wine labels to designate quality wines will also be merged into one single category.

These amendments have been adopted in response to a number of concerns raised by third countries.

These amendments to the EU’s Wine Labeling Regulation of 2002 were considered necessary by the Commission in order to enhance the conformity of EU legislation with the European Union’s international commitments under the TRIP’s2 and the GATT Agreements. They focus mainly on the ‘traditional expressions’ policy and the rules applicable for the use of wine descriptors by third countries.

Franz Fischler, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said the Commission would have a ‘watchdog’ role in ensuring the new allowances are not abused by third countries. “These amendments enhance the protection and interests of producers and consumers, [as well as] market transparency and fair competition, which the regulation on wine labeling was set off to safeguard, [it is also] a response to our international level commitments” he said.

The 2002 Wine Labeling Regulation divided the ‘traditional expressions’ into the following two categories.

The first category contained expressions that could be used by third countries under certain conditions, such as ‘klassic’, ‘château’, ‘classico’, ‘reserva’, etc.

The second category was exclusively reserved to wines produced in the EU and included ‘traditional expressions’ which were linked to production in particular geographical areas and were exclusively reserved for EU wines, such as ‘vin jaune’, ‘amarone’, ‘amontillado’, ‘ruby’, etc.

Some traditional expressions like “fino”, “claret”, etc, that had been used for a long time in other areas of the world were not allowed to appear in the EU market on wine labels produced by third countries.

Now, in order to be able to use EU traditional expressions on wine sold in the EU market, a third country, such as Australia or New Zealand, will have to prove that :

- The traditional expression in question is recognised and governed by either applicable rules or by rules laid down by representative producer organisations in the third country in question

- The term to be protected is distinctive and/or enjoys a reputation in the third country in question

- The term has been used for at least 10 years in the territory of the third country

- The rules of the third country concerning the term in question do not mislead the consumer regarding the term.

Furthermore, only traditional expressions in the official language of the third country in question can be authorised. The use of a traditional expression in a language other than the official language of a third country is only allowed if the national legislation of this country provides for the foreign language in question and the said language has been in continual use in the country for a minimum of 25 years.

2 WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. Requires all WTO members to respect a comprehensive set of minimum standards of protection of intellectual property rights and covers their enforcement.

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