EU farm ministers back profound reform of European wine industry
European Union farm ministers on Monday, 25.09.2006, said they overwhelmingly support a profound reform of the continent's wine industry to tackle overproduction and increasing global competition.
"There was total agreement on the fact that we have a wine surplus, we have a crisis in the market and we are losing market share and therefore it is clear something needs to be done," said Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU's agriculture commissioner after a regular ministerial meeting.
Faced with such different scenarios to tackle the crisis, the one proposing "profound reform," said Finland 's Agriculture Minister Juha Korkeaoja, "was supported by just about all member countries."
The package under discussion should thoroughly change the way wine in marketed globally. Foremost, higher quality wines for which Europe is famous should be promoted.
A scheme to grub up huge swathes of vineyards across Europe is at the heart of the reform to restore balance to the market.
There is talk of ripping out some 400,000 hectares, over 10 percent of the vineyards, but Boel refused to be pinned down on specifics. She stressed digging up vines would need to be done voluntarily. Yet she stressed it was necessary and dismissed criticism that farmers would be hurt too hard.
"If we don't do anything we will cause huge social problems," she said.
The EU head office has said European taxpayers had to fork out ˆ$150 million (US$190 million) this year to distill unsold wine into industrial alcohol or biofuel to prevent a surplus undermining wine prices. Meanwhile increasingly popular sales of wines from Australia , Chile , South Africa and other overseas producers could soon turn the EU into a net importer of wines.
Whatever the measures, French officials insisted any reform should have a proper "safety net" to make sure vintners don't face sudden ruin.
Italian agriculture minister Paolo De Castro said the southern Mediterranean nations would stand united to fend off overly drastic changes. "We will continue to construct a Mediterranean alliance," he said.
Several nations backed the reforms. Ireland has pointed out that New World imports now account for 70 percent of its wine market and Britain has said Australia had recently overtaken France as Britain 's main supplier, EU officials said.
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