A European business group has criticized Chinese calls to probe European Union wine imports, describing them as "protectionist," as a dispute between the major trading partners threatens to escalate.
The China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association this week formally requested the government in Beijing to investigate whether wine from the E.U. was damaging the domestic market. China's commerce ministry is now considering whether to take action following the request, which made claims of unfair European subsidies to its industry, state media reported.
The E.U. Chamber of Commerce in China called the developments a "worrisome trend of trade protectionism."
"We strongly oppose such protectionist measures," said Zhang Qi, the vice chair of the chamber's agriculture, food and beverage working group. "No doubt, both China and the E.U. will suffer from a trade dispute over wine, while Chinese wine lovers and consumers would be the biggest victims."
Experts said the request followed a flood of cheap imports of bulk and bottled European wine, including from Spain, last year. Europe, which is China's biggest trading partner, exports an estimated one billion euros ($1.2 billion) worth of wine and spirits annually to the country.
The E.U. Chamber of Commerce said possible moves by China against alleged "dumping" and other retaliatory measures would hurt free trade and efforts by Chinese producers to improve quality.
China is seeking to build its own wine industry. Much of the wine made in the country has until recently been mass-produced and of low quality, but there are now some good Chinese wines being sold.
"The possible trade remedy measures will limit competition and distort trade. This is not a definite way to lead the improvement of wine quality for domestic wine producers," the chamber said.
Jim Boyce, operator of China-focused wine blog Grape Wall of China, said Chinese winemakers find it difficult to compete against imported wines.
"Countries like Spain and Chile and Australia can make a lot of very reasonably good, super-cheap wine and China is still on the quality curve," he told AFP. "It's hard for the mass-produced Chinese winemakers to compete against that, at that quality level."