Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has threatened a "tit for tat" measure of importing whisky from the UK in bulk, in retaliation for the move by UK retailers to import South African wine in bulk.

More than half of all South Africa’s certified wine exports were transported in bulk in 2011-12. South Africa exports about R900m of wine to the UK each year but imports R1,4bn in whisky from the country.

Mr Davies told Parliament’s trade and industry portfolio committee on Friday that the bulk importation of South African wines by UK supermarkets had resulted in the loss of about 1,000 jobs in bottling plants (300) and associated industries (700) in South Africa. The retailers were apparently importing the wine in bulk so that a bottle of South African wine could be sold at less than £5.

A UK government-funded nongovernmental organisation was also encouraging the retailers to import wine in bulk to reduce the transport-related carbon footprint.

"It is very shortsighted and illogical because if this approach is taken to its logical conclusion, all long-distance trade should be discouraged to cut the carbon footprint," Mr Davies said.

He said that he had discussed the issue with the UK government, which had assured him it did not support the practice. However, the minister wants the UK government to launch an active campaign against the measure among UK retailers otherwise South Africa might have to adopt a similar practice with regard to whiskey imports from the UK.

"What is good for the imports must be good for the exports as well," Mr Davies said.

The Cabinet had approved the commissioning of a study on the possibility of importing whiskey in bulk from the UK, he said.