H.E. Mr. Patricio TORRES
Ambassador of Chile to Japan
—Chile is already known as a reliable exporter, but Japan chooses its trade partners fairly meticulously. Ultimately, what was it that allowed the Japan-Chile Economic Partnership Agreement to be such a success?
First of all we have had economic relations for 150 years and this has created an atmosphere of trust. Official bilateral relations between Chile and Japan can be traced back more than a century, beginning with the signing of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation in 1897. But commercial relations have existed since the beginning of the Meiji Era.
Japan and Chile share values. We have strong institutions and both countries enjoy the rule of law. This is very important, not only for investors, but also for people making commercial deals. One of the milestones in this field of commerce was reached in 2007 with the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the two countries, the first to be signed between Japan and a South American country. In bilateral relations both Japan and Chile always aim high, establishing high quality relationships.
—Since the establishment of the Japan-Chile EPA in 2007, tariffs on imported Chilean wine have decreased; in fact, all tariffs on Chilean wine will be scrapped in 2019. What does this elimination mean for bilateral relations between Chile and Japan? Is it a symbol of confidence and trust? What effect will it have on the already thriving market for Chilean wine in Japan?
Chile-made products are an established brand in Japan. People already recognize us for our agricultural products and wines—good quality and good price. This is a strong foundation. I’m not so sure whether Japanese consumers will change their preferences any time soon. They already know us and appreciate the wide offering of Chilean wines. What is interesting is that Japanese consumers are always eager to try new varieties and new blends or new labels. We are very confident that the Japanese consumers will keep favoring us.
—Chile was able to quantitatively outsell France this year, making Chilean wine the most purchased foreign wine in Japan. What steps did the nation take to overcome France, one of the most prestigious competitors in the wine industry?
Do you think Chile will also be able to outperform its competitors in wine revenue in the near future?
First of all, it is quality. The quality of wines comes from the quality of our grapes. Chile is a paradise for growing grapes. We are blessed with natural conditions that allow us to be tremendously competitive. There is plenty of sun, there are dry summers, the soil is excellent, and then to be successful you have to show quality at a reasonable price. We excel at that. On top of that, Chile is a country of mountains, and where you have many mountains, you have many valleys. In these little valleys you have micro-terroirs offering many possibilities to make wonderful wines. When you love wine you want to experiment a little bit. We provide you with the brand you have been drinking for 20 years, but if you want to try a new variety we provide you with that too. This is part of our success. It also has to do with very focused information. Everywhere we hear, “we love Chilean wine.” We have country brand recognition thanks to the wine. We apply this to our food and culture as well. Wine has become an ambassador of Chile. This is due to a very concerted long-term effort by the wineries and the Government in order to establish the brand. And it takes a lot of time, energy and investment. We have done that. If we keep growing at today’s rate we might become No. 1 in value too. This is our goal. We don’t stop here. If you look at the statistics, wine consumption has enormous growth potential.
—Chilean wine is an extremely affordable option for Japanese wine enthusiasts, but Chile also has a number of luxurious icon wines. Can you tell us a little about these wines and their presence in Japan?
An icon wine is a wine that is superior in quality, and sometimes in price. These are wines that consistently are given over 90 points in a scale from 0 to 100. We are talking about wines going beyond 10,000 yen, up to 40,000 to 50,000 yen in Japan.
Chile has been making a concerted effort to place these wines in the market. However, we had to convince the experts first. Chilean icon wines have been winning prizes in widely recognized competitions like the Berlin Tasting. We brought a variety of vines from France in the middle of the 19th century, including Carménère. However, because of a Phylloxera epidemic at the time in Bordeaux, many vineyards were wiped out. The French winemakers needed to bring it back from the American continent to replant lost vineyards, mostly in Bordeaux. Among lost and forgotten vines was Carménère, ideal for the climate in Chile. Rediscovered in the 1980s, Carménère has become an exciting new flagship among many varieties produced by Chile. You know, Chile became known for the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon but today everyone wants to try Carménère. It has a deep red color and is considered a medium bodied wine, usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
In Chile, the majority of wineries are still family owned and many have a tradition of over 150 years. Yet, we are still learning about our terroirs. With our very young and creative winemakers who like to experiment a lot, we have been creating exciting new wines from the Atacama desert to the south, in places where it was unthinkable to do so 20 or 30 years ago. There are magnificent Sauvignon Blancs produced only a few kilometers from the Pacific Ocean which have great mineral and saline flavors. Through international competitions like the Berlin Tasting we have been able to place our wines among the best. But there is still a long way to go considering that many countries produce outstanding wines and some among them, like France and Italy, have established themselves as leaders for many years. Our challenge is to increase our return per case. Today, Japan is our third largest market after the U.S. and the U.K. and we are certain that we will continue to grow in the future.
—Lately other countries such as those in the European Union and Australia have sought EPAs with Japan. What does Chile think of the impending competition in the wine market? Will Chile’s longstanding, nearly exclusive monopolization of Japan’s affordable wine market allow it to stay at the top of the foreign wine imports?
Our challenges are to grow in value and, of course, to be the wine of choice in every niche. We are well established in table and middle range wines, but we want to grow in the premium niche and in icon wines. Competition is always stimulating.