02/01/2015 06:12 EST | Updated 04/03/2015 05:59 EDT

B.C. liquor law changes upset independent and U.S. wine retailers

John Clerides, who has been stocking shelves at his Marquis Wine store on Davie Street for nearly 30 years, says making a living selling wine now is harder than it's ever been.

Clerides says government changes to B.C.'s liquor laws have created an uneven playing field that favours the larger retailers.

"Suzanne Anton [the minister responsible] has spoken about levelling the playing field, but the wine stores still can't carry beer or spirits or sell to restaurants," he said.

Just days ago, following an industry outcry, Anton had to reduce the suggested price increase on wholesale premium wine that would have driven up prices for premium wines at small scale shops — prices that would have been passed on to consumers.

Wine industry blames lack of consultation

Wine industry lawyer Mark Hicken blames the about-face on a lack of government consultation.

"Obviously a mistake was made calculating the formula, and if they had had a bit more consultation that would have been avoided," he said.

NDPMLA David Eby claims the government is rushing changes that have not been well thought out.

"The reality for consumers and for industry is they are getting whiplash during the recent liquor policy changes," he said.

The fast-track liquor law changes have caught the attention of the Wine Institute south of the border.

The group representing 1,000 U.S. wineries is poised to launch an unfair trade practises complaint under the North Amercian Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saying the B.C. government's new wine policy is too restrictive.

"It's my opinion that restricting sales to only B.C. wines is not NAFTA compliant and there is a potential for a trade challenge there," said Hicken. 

Critics say the direct challenge to the B.C. government's policy to promote B.C. wines by putting them on grocery store shelves, if successful, could mean all wines will wind up in grocery stores no matter where they are from — exactly the opposite of what the government intends.