Terrorism and unintended consequences
A new U.S. law intended to combat terrorism by providing more regulatory control over imported food and beverages may place an unanticipated chokehold on fine-wine imports, especially those by smaller importers that handle the wines of artisanal producers.
Like many laws passed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a portion of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 is intended to protect against terrorism by keeping an official eye on incoming cargo shipments.
But also like so much in the world of legislation, complex regulations, quickly drafted, can have unintended consequences. Some wine-business insiders fear that provisions of this Act may cause serious problems for small businesses that import wines ... and for the wine lovers who buy them.
The problem, experts say, lies in the detailed and precise level of recording and reporting that the Act will require. Beginning in December, food-and-beverage importers and manufacturers (including wineries) that import food or beverages must register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and provide FDA with detailed records outlining the source and shipment information of all imports.
Importers will be required to inform FDA exactly when a shipment is due to arrive in port - and they must do so on a precise schedule, no more than five days and not less than eight hours before the shipment arrives.
Large importers may not find these requirements onerous, writer Adam Lechmere reported in the British wine journal Decanter this week from VinExpo in Bordeaux. But, he said, "commentators are sure that it will make it more difficult for the smaller wineries to export to the U.S."
John Hinman, a lawyer with expertise in the wine industry, told Decanter.com, "The onus is on the wineries to comply. Small wineries may well say it's not worth the hassle to fill in all the forms – assuming they understand what they have to do and get notice of it."
One industry source called the Act "extreme," categorizing it as a classic non-tariff barrier to trade. "There is a certain xenophobia operating within the United States, and this is just a part of it," this source told Decanter.com.
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If you prefer to read primary sources, you'll find the relevant provisions of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 online in a letter from the director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition:
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Wednesday, June 25, 2003