Australia’s ‘approachable’ wine won over China’s middle class. Then came the tariffs


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It’s not usually politicians come out and encourage residents to drink extra alcohol, however in a video shared final Tuesday by the Worldwide Parliamentary Alliance on China, officers from 11 states internationally did simply that as a solution to protest China’s “bullying.”

“This December we’re asking you all to hitch us in standing towards Xi Jinping’s authoritarian bullying…by consuming a bottle or two of Australian wine and letting the Chinese language Communist Occasion know that we’ll not be bullied,” Swedish politician Elisabet Lann and Slovakian Member of the European Parliament Miriam Lexmann mentioned within the video.


The video was a name to arms for allies of Australia. The nation has barreled headfirst into a serious political confrontation with China, its chief buying and selling accomplice, that might probably value Australian wine exporters their single largest market.

Paired with politics

The Sino-Australian brawl—a number of years within the making—got here to a head in April this 12 months when Canberra pushed for a global investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. Offended or threatened by the assault on its honor, China retaliated with a slew of financial sanctions towards Australian imports, together with sugar, barley, wheat, copper, and—most lately—wine.


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In November, about three months after launching an anti-dumping investigation towards Australian wine imports, China imposed tariffs of as much as 212% on Australia’s wines, torpedoing a commerce price some $830 billion a 12 months to Australian wineries. China is the biggest marketplace for Australian wine exporters, consuming round 40% of all Aussie wine shipments.


When the tariffs had been introduced in November, Australia Commerce Minister Simon Birmingham said they made China an “unviable” marketplace for the nation’s wine exporters. Treasury Wine Estates (TWE)—the Melbourne-based maker of Penfolds, Wolf Blass, and different manufacturers—has already introduced plans to search out different markets to substitute China, which accounts for 30% of the corporate’s earnings.

After China, the U.S. is essentially the most useful marketplace for Australia’s wine exporters, shopping for $326 million price of wine within the 12 months ending September 2020, in keeping with trade physique Wine Australia. The U.Okay. is third in line, with $319 million spent.

Bottles of wine imported from Australia are displayed at a grocery store on Nov. 27, 2020 in Hangzhou, China. China hit Australian wine with tariffs in November, threatening to close Aussie winemakers out of the market.
Lengthy Wei/VCG by way of Getty Pictures

If ranked by quantity of exports, nonetheless, the order is reversed with the U.Okay. glugging essentially the most Australian wine in 2020. The disparity between quantity offered and cash earned factors to the high-value of the Chinese language marketplace for Aussie growers.

“We’re extraordinarily dissatisfied to search out our enterprise, our companions’ companies, and the Australian wine trade on this place,” TWE CEO Tim Ford mentioned in an announcement, though he cautioned that TWE isn’t giving up on China totally.


The winemaker hopes it may possibly keep out there by sourcing grapes from totally different international locations to skirt China’s tariffs and by probably exporting extra bulk wine, which is cheaper and saved in delivery containers, moderately than a premium product packaged in bottles. Australian bulk wine isn’t topic to the brand new tariffs.

Increase and bust

China is anticipated to grow to be the world’s second-largest marketplace for wine by 2023, surpassing France and inching nearer to No. 1, the U.S., in keeping with trade tracker IWSR. Throughout the subsequent three years, Chinese language wine gross sales will attain $18 billion, in comparison with $40 billion within the U.S.


China already overtook France because the world’s largest drinker of crimson wine in 2013, when Chinese language shoppers quaffed 1.9 billion bottles of the crimson stuff. White wine stays a marginal participant in China. Crimson, the speculation goes, is an auspicious shade. And whereas nearly all of China’s wine remains to be bottled by home makers—led by the Nice Wall and Changyu manufacturers—imports account for roughly 40% of the market.

Imported wine gained preliminary recognition as a status merchandise within the mid-2000s; it was superb for reward giving and toasting at banquets. However Chinese language President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption in 2012, which focused extra authorities spending and bribery by way of gift-giving, stymied the expansion of luxurious wine imports, a phase dominated by so-called Outdated World vineyards, primarily in Europe.


Xi’s crackdown gave a lift to New World wines—assume Napa Valley, Chile, and Australia—as China’s imagine-conscious center class seemed for premium, however unpretentious, bottles.

NANTONG, CHINA – NOVEMBER 27: Bottles of wine imported from Australia are displayed on the market at a grocery store in Nantong Free Commerce Zone on November 27, 2020 in Nantong, Jiangsu Province of China. (Picture by Xu Congjun/VCG by way of Getty Pictures)
Xu Congjun/VCG by way of Getty Pictures

In accordance with China Customs knowledge, Australia surpassed France because the main nation of origin for wine imports by worth in 2019, delivery in $830 million price of wine in comparison with France’s $725 million. By quantity, customs knowledge reveals, Australian wine makes up roughly 1 / 4 of all China’s wine imports.



Australia’s success has come from concentrating on the informal drinkers in China’s center class, or the “masstige” market, says Ben Luker, nation supervisor for Australia and New Zealand at trade analysis agency Wine Intelligence.

“I feel Australia was very approachable as a premium wine. The lower cost level might need been just a little extra engaging, in comparison with luxurious labels, and Australian wine—as with New World wine usually—isn’t as rule-bound because the Outdated World producers in the case of branding and labelling,” Luker says.


For instance, New World wine labels checklist the kind of grape pressed into the bottle, whereas Outdated World labels are likely to state the area the place the grape was grown as an alternative. That latter info, Luker says, is off-putting to an off-the-cuff drinker, who doubtless isn’t well-versed within the signature profiles of the assorted Outdated World terroirs.

Not like Outdated World wines, New World labels additionally embody tasting notes, which assist drinkers deduce whether or not a bottle may match their palate. Nevertheless, conventional taste profiles utilized in English-speaking markets don’t translate effectively into the Chinese language world, Luker says, and Australia has been significantly proactive in bridging that hole.


In 2015, the Australian Grape and Wine Authority devised a so-called tasting wheel that interprets tasting notes for the Chinese language market. Australian exporters may substitute ‘Chinese language hawthorn’ for ‘blackberry,’ for example, or go for ‘lychees’ over ‘cherries’ when describing a wine’s bouquet.


Regardless of Australia’s work in constructing a market in China, its buyer base is unlikely to abdomen a post-tariff worth hike. An obligation of 200% would triple wine’s value for importers, with a few of that improve handed on to shoppers. Different New World producers are primed to steal market share from Australia.


Chile ranked third when it comes to wine exports to China by worth in 2019, with $358 million of gross sales. Chilean wine is topic to a 0% tariff in China, because of a free commerce settlement signed in 2005 that regularly diminished tariffs on wine to nothing in 2015. Australian wines, likewise, had tariffs regularly diminished to nothing in 2019—making the sudden hike all of the extra stunning.

Chile can also be among the many main suppliers of China’s bulk wine, which is shipped en masse and bottled by native manufacturers to be offered underneath their very own label. Presumably then, whether or not they comprehend it or not, Chinese language drinkers have already got a style for Chilean wine.


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