France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are blocking a move by the European Commission to allow the import into the EU of Australian wine flavoured by the addition of oak chips. This is a faster and cheaper process than the traditional method of ageing wine in oak barrels.

Brussels wants to grant Australia a "derogation" from the regulations, similar to that enjoyed by Chile, in order to sweeten the atmosphere for negotiations on a wine and spirit agreement between the two sides.

But Commission agriculture spokesman Gregor Kreuzheuber admitted that the plan is being opposed by these traditional EU wine-producing countries.