Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Liquor bosses battle alcopop ban

Liquor industry executives have met Justice Minister Judith Collins and urged her to quash a law change which 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 this month.

They have told Mrs Collins that policy which 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 bans off-licence stores from selling RTDs with more than 6 per cent alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

Distilled Spirits Association chief Thomas Chin said the fact senior members of four corporations had met the minister highlighted the industry's opposition to the amendment.

"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) last month that its new policy could affect trade in alcohol products with 6 per cent to 14 per cent alcohol content.

Mrs Collins said alerting the WTO was standard: "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 a 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, in particular women.

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

Independent Liquor estimated RTDs made up 12 per cent 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 per cent or more.

Most 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 per cent alcohol content. But this was later amended to 6 per cent, 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 strength of alcopops in bottle shops.

THE PROPOSAL

Ban alcopops with a strength of more than 6 per cent alcohol from bottle shops.

THE OPPOSITION

Alcohol companies say the proposal will undermine international trade agreements.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 24 Jul 2014 18:46:13 Processing Time: 478ms