U.S. aim­ing to bring up wine dis­pute at NAFTA talks

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - JOANNA SMITH

U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer has an is­sue with get­ting agri­cul­tural prod­ucts to Canada, and it might not be the ones you think.

Much of the spot­light on CanadaU.S. trade lead­ing up to the new North Amer­i­can free trade talks has been on dairy prod­ucts.

This time, though, Lighthizer was not talk­ing about cheese, but what you pair it with: wine.

Two days be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­tered the White House, the U.S. launched an ag­gres­sive trade chal­lenge by ask­ing the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion to ex­am­ine how the B.C. gov­ern­ment was al­low­ing only wine pro­duced within the prov­ince to be sold in gro­cery stores.

Lighthizer told the com­mit­tee in June that WTO con­sul­ta­tions — the first stage of the process — had not re­solved things, so the ad­min­is­tra­tion was think­ing about whether to press ahead with a dis­pute set­tle­ment panel in Geneva. Then he men­tioned an­other, per­haps friend­lier, way to go: the new NAFTA.

A month later, Lighthizer pub­lished the list of goals the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has for a rene­go­ti­ated trade deal with Canada and Mex­ico, in ad­vance of the first round of talks on Aug. 16. Cana­dian wine got a men­tion.

The move to al­low only B.C. wines to be sold in B.C. gro­cery stores, which the United States ar­gues is dis­crim­i­na­tory, is not the only is­sue the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has with the way Canada im­ports and sells wine.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment’s an­nual re­port on trade bar­ri­ers high­lights a com­plaint that would be shared by many Cana­dian con­sumers who have long chafed at lim­ited ac­cess.

The re­port said the U.S. gov­ern­ment is re­view­ing the sit­u­a­tion in On­tario, where about 70 gro­cery stores are now al­lowed to sell both do­mes­tic and im­ported wine.

The Cana­dian Vint­ners As­so­ci­a­tion, mean­while, is tread­ing care­fully when it comes to NAFTA.

Asha Hin­go­rani, direc­tor of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic af­fairs, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is keep­ing de­tails of its po­si­tion se­cret un­til talks be­gin, but said the com­plaints com­ing from the U.S., which has a $450-mil­lion wine trade sur­plus with Canada, should be put into per­spec­tive.

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