Monday, April 14, 2014

Georgian wine export stumbles in Belarus

14.04.2014. Export of Georgian wines has been stumbling over alleged technical problems in Belarus for five months already. Some sector players discern alleged political overtones tying the problem to the Kremlin which initiated the customs space of the so called Eurasian Union by gathering Belarus and Kazakhstan in alliance with Russia. The Georgian authorities deny the presence of any political factors and promises the situation will be cleared soon.

As the Belarus web portal Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on 28 March, Georgian wines have mysteriously disappeared from trade outlets in Belarus as no distributor has been enacting the Georgian export since the end of the last year. Belarusian supermarkets seem unhappy over this halt in Georgian wine supply because the product enjoys high demand in spite of high prices compared to the West-European and South African wines. According to the portal, reserves of Georgian wine are totally over, even the ones that were not popular. However, none of special importers [who according to the Belarusian law are mandated to implement the import to Belarus market] could explain why. Some surmised the quotes expired; some even tied the problem with the unified customs union of Belarus to Russia. Belarusian Trade Ministry called both reasons absurd explaining that an importer is free to choose the supply geography. The only state requirement is for quality, which demands all quality affirmation certificates to be attached to the imported product.

Since no quality related problems or a ban were reported officially as of yet, some people ascribe the problem to politics. As bpn.ge portal reported on 29 March based on one incognito source, Belarus banned Georgian wine export because the Georgian government stopped procurement of tractors “Belarus” produced in Belarus. But Georgian officials denied this fact. According to Gigla Agulashvili, Head of Branch Economy Committee at Parliament, there is no ban on Georgian wines in Belarus but simply some technical bureaucratic problems. According to him, 15 bottles of cognac and 25 000 bottles of wines and 180 liters of wine materials have already been transported to Belarus in the first quarter of this year and they will be in sale as soon as the new quotes will be redistributed and the old quotes have expired.

Levan Davitashvili, Head of the National Wine Agency of Georgia, underlines that the Georgian wine export never stopped to Belarus, but it simply stumbles over procedural details related to the wine importers and will be resumed as soon as the ongoing governmental negotiations will be through.

Giorgi Margvelashvili, Director General of the Tbilvino wine company that sends around 6% of its export to Belarus, still believes the problem is political. 

“Actually the Belarusian market is a little problematic. It is heavily regulated and runs quotas on the import, disallowing private companies to acquire these quotas as only state-based importers have access to them. So, periodically there have always been some interruptions in the export to Belarus due to technical details but generally they were quickly removed, while this time the export has been halted since last October. I see political reasons behind this,” Margvelashvili told Georgian Journal though he refused to elaborate on what exactly could be the reason for this. 

Zurab Ramazashvili, Head of Telavi Wine Cellar, surmises that maybe the problem is related to the reopening of the Russian market since the summer of 2013 which attracted more Georgian wines.
“As a matter of fact the Belarus market was more interested in purchasing wine materials rather than bottled wines, but after the Russian market reopened it showed a big demand for bottled wines. So, wineries prefer to bottle wines and send them to Russia rather than send wine materials to Belarus. Perhaps this explains the halt in export to Belarus,” he said in an interview with GJ. More than 1.5 million bottles of Georgian wines were exported to Belarus in 2013, while the figure cut over 22 million bottles to Russia.


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