Commercial Times: Declaring rice wine a 'non-alcoholic' product

The Cabinet recently proposed an amendment to the Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Act to re-categorize rice wine that contains less than 20 percent alcohol as "cooking wine." This means the product would be subject to an alcohol tax of just NT$9 per liter, which would cut its price by half to NT$25 per bottle.

In response to concerns raised by the United States and the European Union over the matter, the government explained that cooking wine is no substitute for alcoholic drinks and promised to tax imported cooking wine at the same rate as rice wine. Vice Premier Sean Chen even offered to treat World Trade Organization (WTO) member states to "wine chicken soup" to help them understand Taiwan's special culinary culture.

In fact, these countries are well aware of the status of rice wine in Taiwanese culture. But by insisting that rice wine be listed under the category of distilled spirits, they are hoping that Taiwan would drop its tax on all distilled spirits.

The Taiwan government should expose the true intentions of these countries and make it clear that imported distilled spirits already enjoy lower tax rates in Taiwan than in many other countries.

If the vice premier believes the matter can be resolved by offering the WTO members "wine chicken soup," the government might as well declare rice wine a non-alcoholic product.

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