U.S.-EU wine agreement signed

Winemakers in the U.S. and European Union got some protection for their practices and labeling Friday when the two entities signed an agreement to facilitate bilateral trade in wine valued at $2.8 billion annually.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the agreement actually was reached back in September after 20 years of negotiations but could not be finalized until the EU’s agricultural ministers granted approval, which came in December 2005.

Among key points:

• The U.S. agrees to curb the use of European geographic names such as "chianti" or "burgundy." Both sides agree to recognize certain names of origin such as Champagne in each other's market, simplifies certification requirements and defines parameters for optional labeling elements of U.S. wines sold in the EU market.

• The EU’s recognizes certain wine-making techniques used by U.S. vintners and a consultative process for accepting new wine-making practices. One of the major differences between U.S. and European vintners, for example, is the common use by Americans of oak chips to achieve a flavor European wine makers achieve by aging their wines in oak barrels.

The Europeans have long objected to the use by some U.S. winemakers of what some cal "semi-generic" labels, insisting they are specific to the regions in which the wines are made. Under Friday’s agreement, however, American wineries currently using them are exempted, something industry analysts speculate will continue to anger many European producers.

"Wine makers on both sides of the Atlantic have the right to be proud of how tradition, climate and expertise combine to create unique tasting experiences,” said Rob Portman, U.S. Trade representative. “This agreement honors these differences."

In 2004, global U.S. wine exports exceeded $736 million, with exports to the European Community more than $487 million, according to the USTR release. Total U.S. imports of wine from other countries in 2004 were nearly $3.4 billion, and U.S. imports from the European Community exceeded $2.3 billion.

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