South African winemakers angered by EU ban on label 'port'

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South African winemakers have been angered by new rules agreed with the EU that prevent them from using the label "port" or descriptions like "ruby" and "late vintage".

The trade deal, which has taken years to negotiate, is about to come into law but has left many producers seething.

"It is hugely frustrating," said Deidre Labuschagne, the export manager for the award-winning Cape wine estate Bergsig. After spending large amounts of money and marketing on produce that had just been renamed "ports", she was told that she could not use the label by an importer in London last week, who said: "We're not allowed to do it and that's final."

She argued that the rules "are just the latest attempt by European producers to delay low-price, high-quality South African competition. Good local ports are among the best in the world".

The European Commission, however, says the new regulations will protect consumers from confusion when they buy products and will also help South African exporters.

An EC spokesman said that the ban was part of a "properly negotiated deal which gives South African produce better access to European markets".

The dispute over labels such as "champagne" and "port" was one of the factors that had led to the trade agreement taking a long time. Producers in countries like Portugal and France said the good name of their products was threatened by South African imports of variable quality.

Although a deal was thrashed out last year, the most thorny issue – when the ruling should come into force – has only just been resolved.

South African producers are particularly angry about not being allowed to use labels such as "ruby" or "late vintage".

"This is nonsense. It's just the EU trying to shift the goalposts," a committee member of the South African Port Producers' Association (SAPPA) told The Independent.

"We've been worried that the EU would try to broaden the name issue to encompass traditional terms like 'ruby' and 'tawny'. But there's nothing in the SA-SA agreement that bans any fortified wine other than that called 'port'. There's no way our renamed exports are illegal".

South African officials are not convinced by the EC's argument that the agreement will help them.

"Where will the name issue end?" said the SAPPA official. "We get the feeling that EU producers will only be happy when the word 'wine' is banned from all imports. Perhaps they'll find that the word was coined by the Greeks and thus wine can't be called wine unless is it grown in Greece."

¿ South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, promised yesterday to bring in new measures to help the country's poor, including making two billion rand (£122m) available to fund a backlog of payments to poor pensioners. But in his speech to parliament he ignored criticism of his handling of the battle against HIV-Aids, arguably the biggest scourge facing the country.