After almost three years of, at times bitter, negotiations, a number of outstanding issues still need to be resolved before the EU-South African Wine and Spirit Agreement can be signed.

This has also retarded the implementation of a promised 32 million litre duty free wine export quota by the EU, as a concession to South Africa agreeing to phase out the use of the words Port and Sherry. The quota was due to be implemented from 1 January 2001.

After in-depth negotiations in July this year, it was believed that negotiations were completed. But when the text of the agreement, drawn up by the EU delegation, was sent to South Africa, further disagreements arose.

Chief trade negotiator with the South African Department of Trade and Industries, Tshediso Matona, and his team returned home from Brussels on Friday (8 December) after another round of talks with EU counterparts where other issues regarding the general South African trade agreement were discussed.

"We were under the impression that the quota agreement was linked to the General Trade Agreement, but the Europeans had linked it to the Wine and Spirits Agreement," Matona said.

"We had earlier sent a letter, drawn up by the Director General of the Department of Agriculture, to the EU giving our reasons for wanting aspects of the Wine and Spirit Agreement's text amended. But though they had responded, we could not fit it into the meetings.

"Originally when we received the text of the agreement we found there were a few points which needed to be resolved before we were willing to sign it. We raised these issues and it appears that the EU delegates thought we were trying to re-open negotiations," he continued.

"All we wanted to do was clarify certain points which we feel did not reflect what we had jointly agreed to during the negotiations in July. We consider them minor aspects to the agreement, but because they are substantive and not technical issues we would like it clarified before we sign.

"Among the points raised were the protection of names, geographical indications, brands and traditional expressions. We felt we needed consistency on this issue throughout the document. There are also outstanding issues on ouzo and grappa," Matona said.

"We do not believe these are major problems and will continue corresponding with the Europeans until we have our next meeting of the Co-operation Council in early February, by which time we are sure we will have resolved all the outstanding substantive points and will be able to sign off on this agreement."

He concluded: "We also propose that there be a Wine and Spirit Co-operation Committee to oversee any technical issues which may arise in terms of the agreement."