NABI Press Release (2023-1) - January 12, 2023
NABI Applauds TTB for Going Down the Road of Singani Recognition But Regrets It Failed Consumers and the Bolivian Singani Producers
Today, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a Final Rule recognizing Singani as a distinctive product of the Plurinational State of Bolivia (Bolivia). “Sangani” is a distilled spirit produced in various parts of Bolivia from the vitis vinifera grapes grown in certain regions of origin within the country. Within that promulgation, Bolivia has specified criteria for different categories of “Singani.” Under the Bolivian law, the alcohol content ranges from 35 to 45 percent or 70 to 90 proof. Accordingly, Bolivia has established a transparent standard for consumers to rely upon in selecting this product in the on-premise and off-premise retail markets.
Distinctive designations for distilled spirits enable consumers to find and select unique distilled spirits products they are looking for and know that the product is authentic. In the global marketplace of today and the internet information age, United States consumers of beverage alcohol are aware of innumerable products from around the world and view some of these products as culturally unique to a specific country or region of the country. TTB’s formal recognition of “Singnai” as a distinctive type of brandy from Bolivia enables importers to bring this product into the United States from Bolivia without fear of counterfeit or fake products claiming to be “Singani.”
NABI regrets that the final rule was revised from the proposed rulemaking in one fundamental way by significantly limiting the alcohol by volume content range of the Singani available to our consumers. The very purpose of a distinctive designation embodies the fundamental requirement that the spirit be produced under the legal standards of the country of origin. TTB recognized this point in its proposal to authorize the alcohol by volume (ABV) range of 35 to 45 percent ABV for the bottling strength of Singani. Under current standards of identity for brandy, of which Singani is proposed as a type, the minimum ABV is 40 percent or 80 proof and that is the only reason cited by TTB for pulling back on the proposed rulemaking. Ensuring the consumer receives a product that is fully true to its heritage in the country of origin, this proposed rulemaking made complete sense for many reasons:
· By recognizing the ABV range of the country-of-origin standards, TTB regulations would more authentically reflect the purposes of these distinctive designations for the benefit of consumers and producers in Bolivia. TTB regulations only set a minimum and not a maximum ABV, whereas Bolivia sets a maximum. The final rule effectively excludes one-half of the Singani from importation without being labeled as “Diluted Singani.”
· Consumer trends favor lower or no alcoholic beverages, including spirits, so this limitation is contrary to consumer demands.
· The final rule imposes a regulatory burden on importers (as well as their foreign producers) to manage inventory controls aimed at preventing the under ABV percentage bottled products from mistakenly entering the United States.
· Of the nine public comments received, only one objected to the proposed alcohol content range. The Embassy of Bolivia (Comment 8) in its comment supported the proposal without qualification.
· The final rule re-enforces a dangerous precedent in imposing unique U.S. rules on established foreign-produced spirits receiving distinctive recognition. A driving impetus for this rulemaking is the commitment by Bolivia to grant distinctive designation status to Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey as products of the United States within 30 days after TTB publishes the final rule. Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey distillers would be unhappy if Bolivia imposed a domestic standard for whisky that conflicted with the U.S. standard of identity.
TTB “kicks the can down the road” here by stating that “(a)ccordingly, TTB will consider whether to address exceptions to minimum bottling proofs for Singani and other distinctive products in a possible future rulemaking.” TTB lists around 80 rulemaking projects in the recent edition of the Unified Regulatory Agenda so the queue is quite a long wait.