Trump administration pins target on B.C. wine sales
U.S. asks WTO to rule on B.C.-only rule for grocery store wine sales
The Trump administration has pinned a target on B.C.'s wine regulations, promising to escalate the ongoing trade dispute at the World Trade Organization.
On Friday the administration issued notice it has requested that the WTO establish a dispute settlement panel to examine the "unfair regulations governing the sale of wine in grocery stores in the Canadian province of British Columbia."
"Discriminatory regulations implemented by British Columbia are unfairly keeping U.S. wine off of grocery store shelves, and that is unacceptable," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement on Friday.
"Canada and all Canadian provinces, including B.C., must play by the rules," Lighthizer said.
Escalating the dispute
The request for the WTO to establish a panel is just the latest step in the ongoing U.S. attempts to overturn the regulation, which was brought in by the Christy Clark government in 2015.
The previous Obama administration also filed two WTO complaints, which were supported by the European Union, Australia and New Zealand. Requesting the establishment of a panel is the next step in the WTO dispute settlement process, say U.S. officials.
B.C. premier fires back
B.C. Premier John Horgan responded Friday morning to the U.S. move, saying it is just one of many trade disputes the federal government is discussing with the U.S.
"My view is the Trump administration seems to be lashing out in every direction on every issue, whether it's softwood, whether it's pulp and paper. Now it's wine. It was aluminum, steel, autos. There doesn't seem to be a sector where Mr. Trump doesn't feel that he's aggrieved," said Horgan.
The B.C. regulations provide two options for grocery stores to sell wine. Under the "wine on shelf" option, only B.C. wine may be sold on grocery store shelves.
Under the the second "store within a store" option, imported and domestic wine can be sold in separated wine stores inside grocery stores.
In 2017, U.S. wine exports to B.C. totalled $56 million, and U.S. wine had a 10 per cent share of the B.C. market, according to U.S. officials.
Currently, there are 54 stores in the province licensed to sell B.C. wine exclusively. Twenty-seven are grocery stores.