Changes to EU wine labeling legislation, due to come into force from next January and a cause of considerable concern among New World wine exporters, are to be discussed in talks to be held this weekend between NZ trade minister, Jim Sutton, and EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy.

The changes have precipitated accusations from New Zealand wine producers, highly dependent on European markets particularly the UK and just completing a record 120,000-tonne harvest, that they will discriminate against wines imported from outside the EU and represent a de facto bar to trade. A number of non-EU wine-producing countries, including the US and Australia, have a lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation.

New Zealand's wine exports to the EU were worth NZ$130m ($62.7m) in the year to April, up from NZ$105m for the comparable period in 2001. Total exports stood at $245m, up from $198m the previous year.

Philip Gregan, chief executive of New Zealand Winegrowers, says the new labeling requirements are based on a different philosophy towards wine codification in the EU which contrasts with the approach taken by New Zealand and other New World countries.

The EU system, says Gregan, seeks to have regulation on all aspects of production, and the new labeling regulations will attempt to set out exactly what specific terms, such as "oak-aged", "barrique-fermented" or "cellar-aged", mean.

Gregan said these issues were for governments to negotiate, but he maintained that the negotiations were hampered by differing approaches to regulation. The New Zealand government, he said, was opposed to unnecessary regulation but he added that EU trade was so important to New Zealand that ultimately everything possible would be done to adjust to the new requirements.