Cantwell, Winemakers: British Columbians Deserve a Glass of Washington Wine

Regulations in British Columbia keep Washington wines off store shelves

Seattle, WA – Today, on National Wine Day, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Washington Winegrowers Association, and the Washington Wine Institute released the following statements after United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer called on the World Trade Organization to investigate Canada over regulations that ban imported wines from store shelves in the province of British Columbia.

“Washington wines are among the best in the world. Today’s announcement is an important step forward in allowing these products to reach consumers in Canada, a top market for Washington wines,” said Senator Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees international trade. “Effective trade enforcement policies are critical to growing the Washington wine industry, which supports 25,000 jobs in Washington state and contributes nearly $5 billion to our economy.”

“We greatly appreciate that the WTO is looking into fair trade with British Columbia as this has been high on our list of important issues for years. With annual exports over $10 million in 2017, British Columbia is our largest and closest trading partner and our growers and vintners have been challenged getting Washington wine into their market channels.  We are hoping for swift and amicable resolution,” said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Winegrowers Association.

"The Washington Wine Institute applauds the announcement by our national trade leaders requesting a dispute settlement panel to tackle the many-years-long discriminatory trade practice in British Columbia grocery stores and their treatment of Washington State wines in that marketplace,” said Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute. “Last year, our wineries exported nearly $10 million of wine to Canada with the majority of that wine going to Ontario and Quebec. Given our proximity to British Columbia and BC consumers' appreciation of quality wine, there's no reason it can't be as an equally large market for Washington State wineries.  We thank the Administration for its support, and look forward to working together to securer fairer and more open access to the British Columbia market."

Specifically, USTR requested that the World Trade Organization establish a dispute settlement panel to examine Canadian regulations that do not allow imported wines to be sold on grocery store shelves in the Canadian province of British Columbia.  These British Columbia regulations allow only local British Columbia wines to be sold on regular grocery store shelves. Imported wines have to be sold in stores that are physically separated from the grocery store, have controlled access, and have separate cash registers from the grocery store’s cash registers. Such discriminatory measures limit sales opportunities for U.S. wine producers and provide a substantial competitive advantage for British Columbia wine. 

Canada is Washington state’s number one export market for wine, with more than $10 million in exports in 2017. Wine in Washington boosts more than 900 wineries, generating $1.8 billion in revenue and $4.8 billion total economic impact, as well as supporting more than 25,900 jobs.

For more information, see the official release from the USTR.