Hong Kong toast of wine world amid global woes

Fri Nov 4, 2011 5:20am EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's wine imports have remained strong even as global economic uncertainty cuts demand for luxury goods, underscoring the city's credentials as a preeminent wine hub buoyed by strong demand from mainland Chinese buyers.

Even with Europe's debt crisis and continued fragility in the U.S. economy continuing to weigh on consumer demand, Hong Kong's wine trade has grown steadily, with imports surging 57 percent in the first nine months, year on year, to $940 million.

Since the teeming former British colony scrapped wine duties from 40 percent to zero in 2008, wine imports have almost quadrupled to $898 million in 2010 with the mushrooming of wine merchants, auctioneers, distributors and storage cellars.

Auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's, along with specialized wine sellers such as Acker, Merrall & Condit, helped propel wine auction sales in the city to $164 million in 2010, according to industry figures, making it the world's leading wine auction hub over London and New York.

In the first three quarters this year, the city recorded $940 million of wine imports from all major wine-growing regions including France, Italy, Australia and South America, many of the best vintages being channeled to meet growing demand from affluent and regular buyers.

"China is the fastest growing wine consumption market in the world," said K.C. Chan, Hong Kong's secretary for financial services and the treasury.

"Strong economic growth, increasing prosperity and an improving lifestyle have led to continuing increase in demand for wine in Mainland China."

At Asia's largest wine and spirits fair in Hong Kong's harbor-front convention and exhibition center, some old world wine producers said that while the financial uncertainty was hurting business, China remained an important new sales frontier.   Continued...