Mon, Jan 13, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Johnnie Walker not running out

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AGENCIES

A local spirits retailer said yesterday that an attempt by lawmakers to suspend the sale of Johnnie Walker whiskey and other products made by British Diageo PLC may have little short-term impact, with most stores already well stocked for Lunar New Year.

"Local stocks of [Johnnie Walker whiskey] are large and we don't expect to see any shortage for the next four to five weeks," said Crystin Chiang (江敏惠), general manager of Drink, Wine & Spirits Ltd (橡木桶), a local alcohol distributor with 33 outlets.

The Lunar New Year holiday is peak season for alcohol sales, accounting for 20 percent of the company's annual revenue, she said. Most retailers have stocked up for the holiday, she said.

The legislature passed a resolution on Friday calling for a one-year ban on sales of Diageo alcoholic beverages.

Diageo is the world's biggest liquor companies, selling Johnnie Walker whiskey, Guinness beer and Smirnoff vodka. The company's imports to Taiwan account for about 4 percent of the company's annual profits.

The British company angered legislators with a Smirnoff advertising campaign last month in London that they say damaged Taiwan's image.

Advertisements in UK subways showed a half-wrapped Christmas gift bearing a label that said: "Warning. This gift will break down on Christmas morning. Replacement parts available from service center. Box No. 260 Taiwan. Allow 365 working days for delivery."

According to Lee Chi-ying (李其英), chairman of Diageo Taiwan said the company apologized for the campaign on Dec. 23.

The move, however, failed to calm flaring tempers, with lawmakers threatening to sue the British company for damages to Taiwan's image.

Over the weekend, Diageo Taiwan said in an announcement that the company will display ads in the London subway praising Taiwan's high-tech industry.

One industry professional said the lawmakers have over-reacted.

"With Diageo having already apologized and planning to run positive ads praising Taiwan, the government should make a positive response as well," Chiang said.

Taiwan is now a WTO member and the government should be more careful in dealing with international-trade issues and avoid creating problems for importers and exporters, she said.

Chiang said if the ban is put into effect, whiskey lovers may have to change their drinking habits.

"Diageo Johnnie Walker is very popular in Taiwan accounting for nearly 50 percent of local whiskey sales," Chiang said.

Drinkers over 50 years old often prefer Johnnie Walker, she said.

"The proposed ban on Diageo may be good opportunity for competitors to boost sales and expand their market share," Chiang said.

As of yesterday, since retailers as well as Diageo Consumers can still purchase Diageo products since the proposed ban has not yet been imposed and retailers have not received any notification from the government.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) said the ministry may take legal action and would first consult with the Ministry of Economic Affairs to insure that WTO rules are not violated in the process.

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