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Amber warning light flashes for China’s wine imports in 2017

New figures from Chinese customs officials show that wine import growth has slowed in the first few months of 2017, prompting caution in a market that has seen ups and downs in the past few years.

Over-stocking has been blamed for a slowdown in wine imports in China in the first three months of 2017.

Imports of bottled wine still increased by 5.6% in volume for the quarter to the end of March, versus the same period of last year. But, the value of imports dropped by 3.6%, according to fresh figures released by Chinese customs and reported by Decanter.com sister site, DecanterChina.

Its new figures serve as a warning sign that China is still susceptible to over-heating, despite having a new generation of middle-class consumers that outnumber the entire population of the UK.

China’s wine import figures had been showing rapid growth in both volume and value since 2015. The first three months of 2016 saw a significant 31.1% increase in volume and a 47.3% increase in value year on year.

The latest figures for 2017 may suggest a potential lag between wine sales and wine imports in the Chinese market, said trade professionals.

‘Even though many overseas producers have sold a huge amount of wines to China in the previous years, it seems the sales haven’t caught up,’ said professor Li Demei, a leading authority on China’s wine market and columnist for DecanterChina.

‘We should be aware that unstable consumption can potentially harm the future development of the market.’

It’s not a uniform trend. France and Australia are still the top sources of imported bottled wines in China, and both saw growth of 10% and 14.9% in the first quarter of 2017. However, imports decreased by 8.8% and 8.6% respectively in value, suggesting a shift to cheaper wines.

Other countries saw a reverse trend. Bottled wines from the USA fell by 14.2% in volume, but enjoyed a 63% increase in average price. Italian, Chilean and Spanish wines have also shown increase in average prices.

Imported sparkling wines also grew in both volume (21.5%) and value (35.7%).

‘The growth in the past 2 years was mainly due to two reasons,’ Alberto Fernandez, managing partner of Torres China, told DecanterChina.com. ‘The increased number of importers and a huge increase on shipments from logistics companies.’

He said the he still expected wine imports to grow in volume in 2017 overall, but perhaps by less than 10%.

Editing for Decanter.com by Chris Mercer. Reporting by Sylvia Wu, DecanterChina editor. 

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