Winemakers head to Hong Kong to kickstart exports

Australian winemakers hope exports to China will bounce back or surpass pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels as they head to Hong Kong for the first time since prohibitive trade tariffs were dropped.

A delegation of industry heavyweights and government figures will attend Asia’s biggest wine show later in May, less than two months since Beijing removed sanctions on Australian imports that were imposed at the height of diplomatic tensions in 2020.

In 2019, Australian wine exports to mainland China were worth $1.1 billon but dropped to just $10 million by the end of 2023, Wine Australia’s export data shows.

Barossa Valley winemaker Tom White from Curator Wine Co said before 2019 Chinese exports accounted for about 80 per cent of business, equivalent to about $3.5 million.

He focused on exporting to other markets just before the pandemic hit and hopes within the next 18 months exports to China could account for 25 per cent of sales.

“It’s just going to be boots on the ground,” Mr White told reporters in Adelaide on Saturday.

“It’s going to be time in the market.

“Having the government support there is going to be massive for us.”

Winemakers’ morale was boosted when the tariffs were scrapped but Mr White does not think it will be the shot in the arm many had hoped for – except for middle-tier to high-end wine.

Wirra Wirra Vineyards chief executive Matthew Deller agreed.

He said the trip offered a much-needed chance for Australian producers to reconnect with the market amid changes to drinking habits.

Chinese wine consumption has dropped by two-thirds since 2017, which Mr Deller partly attributed to burgeoning local production and a lack of corporate gifting.

His winery is now focusing on exporting aromatic drops that sell for about $40 to $65 per bottle, believing they could surpass pre-pandemic sales within five years.

“We’re in 30 markets around the world,” he said.

“China was one of them until 2020 and we’re really happy to be back in.

“We think that there is more opportunity now than there was before 2020, despite the shrinking size of the market.”

South Australian Trade Minister Joe Szakacs will lead the delegation which he said offered an opportunity to increase connections with buyers throughout South East Asia.

“The reality is that we have gone from a $900 million trade out of South Australia into China to zero,” he said.

“The only way is up.”

Australian lobster and some meat products are still subject to sanctions but there are hopes they too could be dropped before Chinese Premier Li Qiang visits in June.

Mr Szakacs said he was hopeful lobster from his state would be back in China imminently and that the federal government was working to normalise that aspect of the trade relationship.

“I wish I could say to you that it’s happening tomorrow,” he said.

“I just simply can’t do that, but I’ve got good optimism and faith.”


Rachael Ward
(Australian Associated Press)


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