04 September 2023
I thank the Member for Adelaide for this motion.
A free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union holds great potential for Australian producers and consumers. Like many in this place, I support the principle of increasing trade avenues for our industries, particularly in agriculture.
But while the agreement that is still under negotiation holds potential, many in my region in North East Victoria are deeply concerned at what such an agreement could mean for them and its potential to greatly harm their livelihoods, if the Government was to sign on to an agreement which is bad for Australia.
The fear in my electorate of Indi comes from seeing the demands by the EU when it comes to geographic indicators on products, specifically the demand from Italy that grape growers and wine makers in Australia be banned from using the word “prosecco” to describe their products.
Almost 60 per cent of Australia’s prosecco is grown in the beautiful King Valley in Indi, a key pillar of the viticulture industry which is a major employer in our region.
Prosecco is worth more than $200 million a year to Australia’s economy in sales alone, with even more value added when you consider the tourism and hospitality industries as well.
If use of the word “prosecco” was banned, it would cause significant economic distress to this industry, causing confusion to consumers, adding significant costs and reducing sales. Free trade agreements are supposed to increase prosperity and jobs, but a free trade agreement that sells out on prosecco would do the exact opposite.
As parliamentarians, we want to encourage industries which are growing and innovating, and prosecco producers in my electorate of Indi are doing just that. Family-owned businesses putting in the work and reaping the rewards. We must not let them down.
Dr Hazel Moir, an expert in geographic indicators at the Australian National University was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, and Dr Moir has empirical evidence on geographic indicators, or GIs as they are known. Dr Moir says it is clear that banning the use of names such as prosecco or feta would hurt Australian producers. But what isn’t clear is how limiting the use of such terms benefits consumers or producers who are able to use the protected term.
What that means is the bid to stifle the use of the name prosecco is not about creating benefits for Italian producers, but about actively harming Australian producers. Such a move should not be rewarded and codified into a free trade agreement.
At this point it must be noted we are speaking about a grape variety, not a method such as champagne. And it was only in 2009 that Italy changed the name of the grape variety to glera and registered prosecco as a geographic indicator in the European Union.
But this is not just an argument about cold hard economics. It’s also about our identity as a nation, proud of its migrant history. The first prosecco vines in Australia were planted by Otto Dal Zotto, who decided to plant the variety because it reminded him of his childhood in Italy in Valdobbiadene. To hear Otto speak about prosecco, you know this is about so much more than the bottom line. It’s about maintaining that identity, that connection, that history and seeing it thrive for decades into the future.
Some members may be listening to this and think ‘well there’s no prosecco grown in my region, this isn’t a big deal’. But if GI status were to be granted to prosecco, it would create a concerning precedent for other wine varieties. In recent EU trade negotiations with China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and New Zealand, attempts were made to protect an expanding list of grape varieties. This could be just the start.
I understand that negotiating a free trade agreement is not an easy thing to do and I am grateful to Trade Minister Don Farrell, who last year took the time to meet with grape growers and wine makers from the King Valley to hear about what maintaining the use of the name prosecco means to them.
I know Minister Farrell understands how important it is to remain steadfast on this point, with no backwards steps. The Minister has said that it his job to get the best result for Australia – and any result that doesn’t maintain the use of the name prosecco for Australian grape growers and wine makers would not be the best result for this country.