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At the Bordeaux and Aquitaine Wine Festival in Wuhan, central China
At the Bordeaux and Aquitaine Wine Festival in Wuhan, central China
Marie-Josée Cougard

BEIJING — Beijing recently announced that it would start to recognize a selection of French wines in China, a country where counterfeiting of prominent French wine brands is common.

The announcement, made at the G20 agricultural ministers meeting in China, is a victory for France. China will now recognize 45 Bordeaux wines that have the prestigious French AOC certification.

"This recognition gives us additional means to defend these names before a Chinese court," says Stéphane Le Foll, the French minister of agriculture.

French wines are not only counterfeited because of their international prestige but also because of their steep prices — a result of taxes that can be as high as 48%. Although wine from other parts of the world can be duty free, they are not as desirable as French brands.

"There are more counterfeited French wines in China than non-counterfeited ones, and the situation is getting worse. Importers and distributors of wines and spirits make the majority of counterfeited goods to lower their selling price," notes a detailed French foreign ministry trade report published in May last year.

Online shopping has further boosted counterfeits. "In two clicks counterfeited wines can enter homes. The internet changed the industry enormously by allowing wines to reach a larger audience of potential buyers," says one French wine expert, adding that buyers often purchase wines from popular Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba, where they unwittingly end up with counterfeited bottles.

After receiving numerous complaints, the Chinese government publicly denied the level of counterfeiting on Alibaba in 2015, saying the number of fakes being described was too high.

An ongoing struggle

Counterfeiting wines is a lucrative business. An executive at Moët-Hennessy, a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, says that "the more expensive a good is, the more it is counterfeited."

The problem is so prevalent that exporting businesses have initiated strong measures against fraudulent practices.

"We must always be one step ahead and be constantly alert to stop fraudsters," says Mathieu Prot, director of intellectual property at Pernod-Richard, a French beverage company that has instituted a "zero tolerance" policy with regard to fraudulent activity.

Prot says the company, which has been more active than others on tackling fakes, has improved its credibility and image with measures such as having its own network of investigators and "raiding about 10,000 Chinese vendors every year." He adds that the company also has a law firm dedicated to "presenting fraudsters before Chinese courts."

None of the groups contacted by Les Echos revealed the exact cost of the fight against counterfeiting, but they all acknowledged the magnitude of the problem. France exported 180 million wine bottles and 31 million bottles of spirits to China in 2015, worth 513 million euros ($578 million) and 319 million euros ($359 million) respectively.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why I Fled: Meet The Russian Men Choosing Exile Over Putin's War

After Vladimir Putin announced a national military draft, thousands of men are fleeing the country. Independent Russian news platform Vazhnye Istorii spoke to three men at risk of conscription who've already fled.

A mobilized man says goodbye to his daughter in Yekaterinburg.

Vazhnye Istorii

A mix of panic, violence and soul-searching has followed Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement of a partial mobilization of 300,000 men to fight the increasingly difficult “special operation” in Ukraine.

Soon after the announcement, protests were reported in Moscow and around the country, with at least 2,000 people being detained during the past several days. It is still unclear how successful these protests will be.

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More notably, the mobilization decree also prompted more than 260,000 men of conscription age to leave left the country. Observers believe that number will continue to grow, especially as long as the borders stay open. Almost all men aged 18-65 are eligible, but some professions, including banking and the media, are exempt.

Vazhnye Istorii, an independent Russian investigative news platform based in Latvia, spoke to three of the many thousands who have chosen to flee the country.

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