Although compared with excise duty, import tariffs on alcoholic drinks are not usually high, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has embarked on a new round of negotiations on the trade in food and drink, which is set to lower them further still.In the last WTO agreement on agriculture, (framed during the Uruguay round of discussions), international delegates abolished many non-tariff barriers to trade, making it clear where protection existed and where it did not.Having achieved this task, the new round on food and drink, launched this March, is focusing on the remaining import restrictions – tariffs.These can still be significant. WTO officials quoted EU import duty rates for malt beer at 12%. Wine tariffs vary according to type and container size, but many lines attract US import duty of 19.8 cents per litre and Euro 34.7 per hectolitre in the EU. Regarding soft drinks, bottled water can attract import duty of 26 cents per litre in the US and 1.3% in the EU.Delegates at the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva have agreed a timetable for the talks, setting a deadline of next March for broad negotiating proposals. Some have already been tabled, with the EU, the US and developing countries all suggesting steps towards creating a more liberal trading system for drinks and food.One senior WTO official told “It was a relief to see that no-one has challenged the current framework for the talks and that people are taking them seriously.” He praised the first US proposal for being “realistic” suggesting market openings that groups such as the EU might accept.”I think these talks will succeed,” he said. “There’s a commitment from most parties that we need to go forward.”

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