NDP MLA David Eby wonders if Christy Clark is deliberately triggering a trade dispute with foreign governments

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      The Opposition liquor-policy critic says it was "entirely predictable" that the Christy Clark government would raise the hackles of foreign governments with a new wine policy.

      David Eby made the comment after the Straight reported that diplomats representing the United States, European Union, and five other countries had registered objections to allowing only B.C. wines on grocery store shelves outside the "store-within-a-store" model.

      Eby told the Straight by phone that he "can't help but think" that the B.C. government has used the store-within-a-store concept as a stalking horse to allow sales of imported and domestic wine on grocery shelves without separate entrances.

      "Now, the government will say 'we tried to do all B.C. products but unfortunately we're now forced to open it up to everybody'," Eby predicted.

      In an April 29 letter to the premier, ambassadors and high commissioners representing the United States, European Union, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile pointed out that imported wine can only be sold in separate outlets within grocery stores. They must have their own cash registers and controlled access.

      B.C. wines, on the other hand, can be placed on regular store shelves in grocery stores with B.C. VQA licences.

      The foreign diplomats have requested that the premier amend the law to "ensure that the sale of wine in grocery stores is permitted on a non-discriminatory basis".

      Eby said that foreign trade concerns could lead the government to scrap the reform's justification, which was to promote B.C. wines.

      "I can't imagine that the government didn't think that this was going to happen," he stated.

      According to Eby, the "master plan" for liquor reforms was prepared by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, but the government won't release its report.

      "They refused to, I think, because...it outlines quite clearly how prices will increase," the NDP liquor-policy critic claimed.

      Eby noted that "any consultant worth the paycheque" would have likely identified the trade issues and pointed out how raising wholesale costs for retailers would ultimately pinch consumers.

      He also said that major commercial wineries in B.C. have made huge donations to the B.C. Liberals and would benefit most from having access to the grocery-store market. That's because they have huge economies of scale and can provide dozens of labels of different products.

      Eby mentioned that Canada is in negotiations with the Americans over the export of softwood lumber. He can't imagine Canadian trade officials wishing to rile the U.S. over 25 licences to sell wine in B.C. groceries.

      "I don't think that either the federal or provincial governments would want a dispute over liquor policy to get in the way of trade in forestry products between Canada and the United States," Eby said. "So I can see that [wine in grocery stores] would be an easy sacrifice for them to make and say 'now we can get something on softwood lumber'."