In 1995-2001, Lithuania participated in the negotiations for the membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At that time, I was a Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and a leader of the negotiating delegation. During the almost 6 years of WTO accession negotiations, the 140 member states of the WTO scrutinised Lithuanian foreign trade policy, identified the elements that were not in line with the WTO provisions and required that they be corrected.
One of such case was with “Žalgiris” mead – 75% alcohol drink produced in Stakliškės. The Law on Alcohol Control in Lithuania stated that alcoholic beverages containing more than 50% alcohol could not be produced or imported into the country. In some way, Stakliškės mead was exempted from that law.
Our negotiating partners in Geneva, when they learned about the “Žalgiris” mead case, required Lithuania to open the market for drinks with more than 50% alcohol – whiskies, rums etc. They could not accept the discrimination in trade, one of the basic WTO provisions.
We tried to convince our negotiating partners that the ancient recipe of “Žalgiris” mead (actually created in 1968) belongs to the Lithuanian national heritage and consumed on very rare and special occasions can not discriminate against foreign producers. Regrettably, we have failed to convince them. We had to do something.
So, you can imagine the disappointment of our negotiating partners when we informed about the amendment of the Law on Alcohol Control adopted by the Lithuanian Parliament, which allowed the production and import of beverages containing more than 50% alcohol but they must contain honey. Later, with a joke, we advised our negotiating partners to add honey to the recipe of their spirits and the Lithuanian market will be open.