India: new labelling laws lead to trouble for booze importers
10 August 2014
Half a million bottles of alcoholic beverages appear to be stuck at the Indian border waiting to be cleared by customs following the implementation of a new labelling law last March. The latest amendment to the law on packaging of alcoholic products requires alcohol producers to print labels in English or Hindi that provide all ingredients.
The Guardian writes that the demand for bootlegged alcohol is on the rise as imported alcohol is heavily taxed (>152%) and now also halted indefinitely at customs. Importers are said to be complaining about ambiguity and confusion.
According to a spokesperson of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India however the regulations are “in line with international norms.” To the Guardian the spokesperson clarified that only single ingredient products like water are exempt of the mandatory listing of ingredients on the packaging.
The same newspaper also quoted Magandeep Singh, India’s only French-certified sommelier, which plays devil’s advocate defending the new regulations: “Egg whites and fish guts are used to clarify a wine when it’s cloudy, but they’re not listed on the bottle as ingredients. That’s a big issue for some people,” he said. Despite this justification, Singh points out that India’s laws regulating alcohol are bureaucratic and costly. As an example he said custom agents insist on testing two bottles in each shipment of foreign booze, which is time-consuming and expensive.
The Guardian also spoke to Aashish Kasbekar, who specialises in clearing alcohol consignments through Indian customs. Kasbekar explained why many products were not let through and also added another explanation for the holdup at customs: “Most of the lower-level inspectors do not understand wines and they’ll go by the book,” he said. “Like if a bottle says ‘shiraz’ or ‘cabernet sauvignon’, they’ll ask: ‘Is this wine?’”
The situation has led British and European diplomats to raise the issue with the Indian government.
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