Cognac, a spirit open to the world

Published: 19/10/2020

Mr Raphaël Delpech, recently appointed General Director at BNIC gives an overview of the importance of Cognac on international markets and why a well-functioning and rules-based international trade system is necessary to keep delivering safe and quality products to European consumers.

Can you tell us more about the importance of export for market?

Since its early beginning in the 15th century, Cognac history has been characterized by openness to foreign markets and has been a great traveller ever since.

As an export product, Cognac has always needed an appropriate legal framework removing tariffs and technical barriers to trade. Just like Cognac, the spirits sector in Europe has been one of the main beneficiaries of this open trade policy, championed by the EU in the last 15 years, with a very ambitious agenda of bilateral agreements, resulting in an increase of the volume and value of our exports. Thanks to that, in 2019, Cognac was the biggest exporter in the French wine and spirits industry, with 216.5 million bottles exported.

Therefore, we imagine GI protection and promotion is important, what does the Cognac sector do in this regard?

BNIC has been promoting Cognac GI since 2010 in its key markets (USA and China), in order to develop the image and notoriety of European GIs, notably Cognac, among wine & spirits professionals. Our latest campaign started in March 2020 and aims at promoting a new identity firmly focused on the connection between Cognac and its origins, through education, press relations, social media & digital influence. The heart of the campaign is to raise the profile of GIs by taking part in major industry events and coordinating a network of professionals and influencers. Over the last campaign, 104 masterclasses were organised in the US and China, enabling us to educate near 5,500 professionals. 21 press and influencers events were organised generating near 1,600 positive articles on Cognac.

When exporting to third markets, it’s critical that IP rights are fully protected, not only trademarks but also geographical indications. BNIC has a very offensive strategy of direct registration of “Cognac” on every market where local law allows it, in addition to the ambitious agenda of bilateral and multilateral agreements signed by the EU.
In this regards, the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement (2015) and the GI agreement with China (2019) show the way as they give GI’s holders the right tools to fight against counterfeits.

What about the regulatory framework for Cognac exports?

The EU needs to remain a champion of open & rules-based international trade, resist protectionist tendencies and robustly address market access barriers, which are likely to increase in the current economic downturn.

Our sector relies on open & free trade after a very difficult economic context in the last six months, where exports were not only impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also by bans, restrictions and retaliation measures taken against some European wines and spirits.

Resolving the ongoing trade disputes with our 1st world market, the US, should be a top priority for the Trade Commissioner, avoiding escalation and building on the recent tariff reductions agreement.
We welcome the appointment of the new Chief Trade Enforcement Officer (CTEO). This new role is key and should focus both on full implementation of existing agreements and on addressing market access barriers, in close collaboration with industry.

While enforcement and implementation of existing agreements is critical, the EU should ratify without delay those already concluded and pursue trade negotiations, with a particular focus on those countries with a high potential for EU exports and significant market access barriers.

For centuries, consumers oversees have enjoyed our premium products and it’s our collective responsibility that it remains that way.

To conclude, can you give more details on this collective responsibility?

This collective responsibility has always driven producers and trade houses of Cognac, acting in favour of local development and environmental protection and guaranteeing the exemplary quality of our products to our clients.

The Cognac sector has worked for many years to preserve its terroir and natural resources, and particularly since 2016, when we launched a collective sustainable viticulture approach.

This initiative aims to promote and develop good practices in the vineyard, including obtaining collective environmental certification combining HEV (High Environmental Value) standards and specific criteria relating to Cognac industry requirements. More than 2,400 properties are engaged today in the collective programme, equalling to 72% of the vineyard area and 58% of the winegrowers. We aim to certify 100% of our winegrowers by 2030.

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