Pop diva Jennifer Lopez has scorned Georgian diplomats’ pleas to help them rescue their wine industry.
The former Eastern Bloc country’s wine industry is currently facing a crippling import ban from its neighbour Russia, its biggest consumer, and is desperately seeking new markets.
The government offered the American star US$500,000 to sing in the capital Tbilisi on Independence Day, May 26, to promote the country’s wines.
The singer’s refusal has embarassed the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili. ‘I think our president likes Jennifer Lopez,’ Soso Shatberashvili of the opposing labour party said. He added there was outrage at this offer of public money to a foreign star.
In March 2006 Russian health officials placed an embargo on Georgian and Moldovan wines claiming that levels of pesticides found in these products made them unacceptable for consumption.
The legality of this ban is under question but its impact is potentially catastrophic as Russia represents approximately 70% of Georgia’s wine market, valued at US$63m in 2005.
Some commentators say that this is not about wine but about politics. One theory is that Russia is retaliating for the countries’ opposition to its entry into the World Trade Organisation.
In the background to this antagonism simmer various other ongoing disputes, the legacy of independence from Russia.
‘Everyone in Georgia expected Russia to do something like this,’ said Tariel Giorgadze, vice president of the Centre of Economic Education and Development in Georgia. ‘There was no way to avoid it.’
While looking to enter new markets such as China, Turkey and the USA, Georgia and Moldova’s top priority is to restore their Russian wine market. Meanwhile, the embargo and debate continue.
Written by Tessa Edbrooke