Ireland's Plan for Alcohol Labels Reaches the WTO

Ireland has notified WTO of its draft regulations on the labelling of alcoholic beverages. The Assembly of European Winegrowing Regions (AREV), criticises Ireland's push for alcohol labelling at a national level and calls for a clear counter-position by the EU.

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What a warning label could look like in Ireland
What a warning label could look like in Ireland

AREV claims that Ireland "is disregarding the EU agreement” by regulating the labelling of alcoholic beverages at a national level and wants to put up warning labels "similar to those on tobacco". The organization accuses the country of questioning the implementation of democratically adopted decisions at EU level and of endangering the wine sector, despite its importance for rural areas. It also calls for action of the EU which should defend the general policy that distinguishes between moderate consumption and alcohol abuse.

Warnings on labels

Ireland's planned labelling measures on (all) alcoholic beverages include a warning about alcohol consumption during pregnancy, a note on the link between alcohol consumption and cancer, a web link to a page informing about the harmful effects of alcohol, as well as the alcohol content (in grams) and the calories contained in the product. So far, there is no mention of "shock images", as is now common practice for tobacco products.

According to the European Wine Trade Association (CEEV), Ireland has submitted its proposals for the alcohol labelling regulation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) despite the opposition of 13 EU partners in a corresponding consultation procedure. CEEV Secretary General Ignacio Sánchez Recarte complained that the consultation procedure would become pointless if Ireland sticks to a draft regulation that runs counter to single market rules.

Even the Irish themselves seems to agree that the proposals jeopardise the EU single market, CEEV remarked. "We are very grateful and indeed kind of surprised that our proposal has successfully gone through this EU assessment process," an Irish representative is quoted as saying. The EU Commission, so far, is silent on the matter, much to the frustration of the CEEV, even though a third of the member states had urged it in a joint letter to hold talks with the Irish authorities to defend EU law.


Ireland's introduction of warning labels on alcoholic beverages is heavily criticised by the wine industry. And rightly so. A commentary by Vincent Messmer.

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Already in recent weeks, the industry has criticised Ireland's move, with most of the criticism coming from producers, often from Italy. AREV also quotes the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, who predicts that the Irish regulations will encourage the consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks by "convincing consumers that wine is just as harmful as whisky".

Next steps

Concerns should now be raised at WTO level, but Sánchez Recarte expresses little hope. “I have strong doubts about any response there. In the absence of action by the European Commission, little can be done. I guess only the European Union Court of Justice would be able to defend the EU at this stage.”  Next step ECJ?




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