French wine tax plans will ‘cork the industry’
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A pro-wine pressure group has mounted a vociferous campaign against plans to raise taxes and tighten advertising laws for winemaking professionals, claiming such moves will hurt one of France’s most successful export industries.
When one thinks of France, one thinks of wine.
But the country’s armies of wine makers could be forgiven for drowning their sorrows in a bottle of Beaujolais at French senators’ proposal to raise taxes on wine, “quelle horreur!”
Despite the fury of French wine producers, there is one inescapable fact: the tax in France on wine is currently 10 times lower than that on beer. This means a 750ml bottle of wine is taxed at 2.7 cents while the same quantity of beer is taxed at 27 cents.
The proposal is not only looking to raise much needed taxes for France’s empty coffers, senators are also making it a health issue. The proposed bill is also looking to lower national alcohol consumption rates, introduce tough new laws regarding “propaganda and publicity” about wine, and introduce stricter alcohol warnings on labels.
Battle lines drawn
The powerful wine lobby – which represents France’s second-largest export industry – has emerged from its hangover fighting and mobilised a publicity blitz, with the Vin et Société (Wine and Society) pressure group last week pouring cash into a campaign to get the French public on side.
According to Audrey Bourolleau, managing director of the influential Vin et Société, the plan threatens this most French of traditions and would be “very bad for the image of France.”
The group, which represents some 500,000 winemaking professionals in France, launched a website titled “Ce Qui Va Vraiment Saouler les Français” (“What Will Really Annoy the French” -- though "saouler" also means “to get drunk”). On Monday, it told FRANCE 24 that the site had already received more than 150,000 hits in just four days.
The website has published a series of ironic images featuring wine industry professionals discussing the proposed measures.
One photo shows an Asian wine importer (France is the largest wine exporter to China), bottle in hand, alongside the caption, “we must really love France if we continue to import a product that is bad for our health”. Another depicts a winegrower in his vineyard alongside the words, “If I’m to believe you, for three generations my family has produced something bad for you.”
As part of its campaign, the pro-wine pressure group also took out full-page ads in the popular French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, addressed directly to President François Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who are both shown sipping glasses of wine. The advertisements mock both men; “Thank you, Mr President, for supporting our country’s second-largest export activity” and “Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for supporting the 500,000 men and women who produce [wine that is] ‘Made in France’”.
On Saturday, the Minister for Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll moved to quell the brewing storm. “I refute that there are any plans for a tax on wine in 2014,” he said during a meeting with industry professionals in France’s southwestern Lot department.
However, his words did little to reassure Valérie Fuchs, Vin et Société's press officer. “We remain committed and we call on Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to mediate. It’s a broad issue that affects the ministries of health, tourism, and agriculture," she told FRANCE 24, arguing that Le Foll could well be overruled by his cabinet colleagues.
The battle lines have been drawn, and the early signs are that French ministers are wavering in the face of one of France’s most powerful industries. Despite a huge dip in domestic consumption in recent years, France remains the world’s largest producer of wine. It is also the world’s largest wine exporter, with €7.84 billion euros worth ending up overseas, notably in the US and China.
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