Cheers! The Political Legacy Of Vinitaly

Italian wines could be a key way of opening a new age of trade relations with China

The 2019 edition of the International Wine Fair hits a new record with amazingly growing numbers. Indeed, this year’s edition has seen 4,600 firms from 35 different countries presenting their products in a 100,000 square meters area in Verona, where at least 120,000 international visitors have tasted more than 50 different wine labels. Vinitaly has come a long way since it started its activity in 1967, when some conferences took place at the Gran Guardia Palace, in Verona city centre. Moreover, this edition has been especially remarkable in view of the involvement of many Italian ministers willing to draw their attention to the important wine sector.

The Vinitaly 2019 edition, indeed, has been particularly strategic for the government’s new approach towards China. While traditional markets such as Germany and United Kingdom are following a downward trend, probably due to political and economic events like Brexit or the general economic slowdown of the eurozone, new actors are opening their doors to our wine. Italian wineries are thus targeting China as a promised land for producers. On one hand, while its different culinary traditions may slacken market penetration and wine consumption, on the other hand the Chinese economic growth and the westernisation of its habits should fuel purchases in the long term. Sales are already increasing in the region and Italy represents the fourth best exporter after France, Australia and Chile. However, these data may look negative at second glance, due to the fact that, out of a total of 430 million Chinese wine imports, only 30 million come from Italian producers, while France (164 millions), Australia (110 millions) and Chile (49 millions) are all booming.

In any case, these figures should be taken with a grain of salt, owing to many reasons. First, other players are benefiting from essential conditions like a long-lasting and more established presence on the market (France) or zero tariffs policies (Chile and Australia), while Italy had so far neglected the Chinese market, focusing on countries with similar culinary and cultural traditions like the US, Canada and some European neighbors. Second, the Italy-China memorandum signed in March, which provides for the release of substantial investments for the new “Silk Road” connecting the two countries, should not be understimated. This bilateral document may represent a new key-access to a huge and increasingly rich country like China, where Italian wineries can sell their goods on favorable terms.

As a consequence, the cross-border success achieved by Vinitaly may have shown to international buyers that Italian wines could be a key way of opening a new age of trade relations with Beijing. In a period of economic stagnation, boosting relationships with a super power like China could definitely be beneficial for Italy and its exporting performances, but also for Europe as a whole.