South African wines are reknowned the world over. Wine makers particularly of the Western Cape region of South Africa export wines to numerous overseas territories.
The way in which wine has been exported over the years is being challenged by the United Kingdom one of the biggest importers of South African wine, on environmental grounds.
In past years, wines have primarily been exported by South Africa already bottled. The South African Fruit and Wine Industry Initiative reports that South Africa exports 412 million liters of wine every year, with 10% – 15% of that exported to the UK alone.
In recent developments, the UK has stated that, for environmental reasons, it is desirous of importing wine from South Africa in bulk.
This has attracted an uproar from the South African wine industry and government. The assertion is that the UK is using environmental concerns as a smoke screen, the importation of wine in bulk is driven by profit margins.
Waste and Resource Action Programme together with British Glass conducted a two year research project which was directed at unearthing perceived benefits of bulk importation of wine. In a nutshell, the findings were that bulk importation would have great business benefits for UK retailers. Moreover, the environmental impact of wine trade would be mitigated significantly.
In as far as environmental concerns are concerned, the study found that bulk importation would dramatically increase the demand for recycled glass, thus reducing glass waste and boosting recycling in the UK. Secondly, because the weight of the cargo is reduced when wine is traded in bulk, the carbon footprint is reduced because the cargo vessels use lesser fuel to transport the cargo.
This has caused the trade tensions between South Africa and the UK.
While the latter stands to benefit from bulk importation, South Africa has legitimate concerns about the socio-economic consequences of bulk exportation. This would affect the bottlers and in turn result in massive job losses.
A mutually agreeable solution should be strived for, in particular, the use of lighter bottles may be considered as an alternative. Another alternative would be using a quota system, where only a percentage of the wine export is in bulk, and the rest bottled. One must concede that these solutions are never as simple as they sound, it could take years before an agreement is reached. However, the general attitude between the trading partners should be mutually beneficial.
South Africa, like all industrialized countries, has international environmental obligations to fulfill. However, it also has a constitutional responsibility to its citizens to promote economic growth and social development.
The solution to the impasse must therefore be sensitive to both considerations.
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