Liquor industry fights RTD Bill

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
Liquor industry executives have met Justice Minister Judith Collins and urged her to quash a law change that will ban the sale of high-strength "alcopops" in bottle stores.

Managing directors from heavyweight drinks companies Bacardi, Jim Beam, Brown-Forman and Diageo were invited to the Beehive on Monday to discuss the alcohol reforms due to return to Parliament later this month.

They have told Mrs Collins policy that restricted the sale of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages unfairly targeted one part of the industry and threatened to breach international trade rules.

The Alcohol Reform Bill would ban off-licence stores from selling RTDs with more than 6% alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

Distilled Spirits Association chief Thomas Chin said the industry was strongly opposed to the amendment, evident in the fact that senior members of four corporates had met the Minister.

"You can well imagine what's at stake for their respective businesses. We're talking about the highest-ranking officers - it demonstrates how serious the policy threat is to the businesses." Mr Chin said the policy undermined the Closer Economic Relations and the Transtasman Mutual Recognition trade agreements, both of which aimed to streamline trade between Australia and New Zealand.

The Ministry of Justice notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in June that its new policy could affect trade of alcohol products with 6% to 14% alcohol content.

Mrs Collins said alerting the WTO was standard practice.

"This does not mean we believe our proposals to restrict RTDs would breach any trade rules - in fact. the exact opposite is the case." In May, the Minister said there was growing concern about sweet-tasting drinks that were high in alcohol.

In the Law Commission report the reforms were based on, the commission said the most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, particularly women.

Mr Chin said the industry already self-regulated by setting a cap of two standard drinks per bottle.

The proposed law change could put a significant dent in sales of pre-mixed drinks.

Independent Liquor estimated that RTDs made up 12% of the total alcohol market in New Zealand by volume. Up to 180 million alcopops were sold in New Zealand each year, and more than half of these had an alcohol content of 6% or more.

The vast majority of sales were believed to be in off-licence stores, such as convenience stores, supermarkets and bottle shops.

The Government initially proposed restricting all RTDs to no more than 5% alcohol content. But this was later amended to 6%, with higher strength drinks permitted in restaurants and bars.

Labour Party justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said it was important that policy focused on RTDs and cheap wine because research showed they were common choices for young binge drinkers.

"Any further watering down will simply mean Parliament is wasting our time with alcohol law reform, in our view."

Current law: No restriction of sale on 'alcopops' from bottle shops.
The proposal: Ban 'alcopops' with a strength of more than 6% alcohol from bottle shops.
The opposition: Alcohol companies say the proposal will undermine international trade agreements.

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