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End of the China wine tariffs: Impacts and opportunities

May 24, 2024 |   Elizabeth De Jesus

In November 2020, the Australian wine industry faced a formidable challenge as China, a pivotal market for Australian exporters, imposed stringent tariffs ranging from 100% to 212%. This decision emerged amidst rising diplomatic tensions that have persisted between China and Australia until recently where the diplomatic relationship appears to be improving.

Prior to the China wine tariffs, Australia was a dominant player in the Chinese wine market, second only to France, with exports worth over AU $1 billion. The impact of these tariffs was devastating, with a reduction in wine exports to China by 97% in value and 93% in volume as of the end of 2021, representing nearly a billion-dollar loss compared to the previous tariff-free year. The tariffs effectively dismantled this relationship, causing Australian wine exports to China to nosedive by over 90%. This void in the market was quickly filled by other wine-producing nations, notably France and Chile, altering the market dynamics significantly.


A sigh of relief and opportunity

The recent announcement on April 16th by the Commerce Ministry in Beijing has brought a wave of optimism across the Australian wine sector. The ministry stated that it was "no longer necessary to impose anti-dumping duties and countervailing duties on the imports of the relevant wines originating in Australia." This pivotal decision coincides with a broader easing of the previously stringent trade sanctions imposed from 2020, signifying a potential thaw in diplomatic relations. However, some sectors like the lucrative rock lobster trade and certain meat industries continue to face barriers, indicating that full trade normalisation might require more time and negotiation.

The implications of the tariff removal are profound. While the formal and informal trade barriers are being dismantled, the landscape of the Chinese wine market has evolved. The overall consumption of wine in China has seen a downturn, influenced by economic factors and changing consumer habits. Analysts and industry leaders, including Accolade Wines' CEO Robert Foye, have expressed a cautious optimism. While a full rebound to the export levels seen in the 2010s is unlikely in the immediate future, the potential for regrowth and re-establishment of market presence is substantial.


Insights from industry experts

Experts suggest that the key to successful re-entry into the Chinese market lies in understanding the evolved consumer preferences and market dynamics. According to a KPMG report, despite the hiatus, the Australian wine brand remains strong in China. There is a keen anticipation among Chinese distributors and consumers to rekindle business relationships with Australian wine producers. This presents an opportunity to rebuild and even expand the previous market base through strategic engagement and brand positioning.


Strategic recommendations for Australian winemakers

In navigating the post-tariff landscape, Australian wine businesses are advised to adopt several strategic approaches such as:

Embracing digital marketing in China

Australian winemakers need to enhance their digital footprint in China by leveraging popular social media platforms such as WeChat and Douyin. WeChat is essential for direct consumer engagement, providing avenues for brand storytelling and marketing through its versatile communication channels. Meanwhile, Douyin, known for its dynamic short video and live streaming capabilities, has become a powerful tool for increasing brand awareness. Consequently, there were over 400 000 alcoholic beverages for sale on Douyin and over 2 million livestreams related to alcohol in 2023. Given that e-commerce now accounts for about 30% of wine sales in China, establishing a robust online presence is more important than ever. Digital marketing strategies should include content that educates consumers about the uniqueness of Australian wines, possibly incorporating virtual tastings and interactive wine tours.

Diversification across Asian markets

While China remains a significant market, Asia as a whole presents a big opportunity for Australian wine markets it is the largest region by value for Australian wine exports with a 36% value share. For example, Hong Kong and Japan have shown a growing appreciation for premium wines. Export strategies could include tailored marketing campaigns that align with local tastes and cultural preferences. For instance, in Japan, where consumers have a keen interest in the provenance and sustainability of products, Australian wineries could highlight their sustainable viticulture practices.


Looking forward

As the Australian wine industry navigates this promising yet complex landscape, the focus should be on strategic planning and agile responses to market changes. The lifting of China's tariffs opens a doorway to not just revive old connections but also to forge new paths in the global wine industry. With careful strategy and innovative practices, the future for Australian wine exports looks promising, marked by potential growth and new opportunities. To learn how take advantage and maximise on this growth opportunity and engage Chinese wine drinkers via digital channels, contact us


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