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On the terrace of Moshe’s, a European restaurant in Bombay, a young professional Indian couple is enjoying a glass of wine over a plate of pasta.

They are drinking a cabernet shiraz made by Sula, a popular homegrown label, which they have consumed heartily. But their selection has largely been driven by price.

The Indian red, at 950 rupees (£11.10) a bottle, is a third of the cost of the Australian Tahbilk shiraz. Across the board, the (limited) wine list tells the same story. The most expensive Indian bottle is 1,100 rupees; the dearest foreign import is 3,500 rupees.

Mona, a banker, and Aashish, a consultant, both 35, are just the sort that international alcoholic drinks makers want to target in one of the world’s fastest growing markets. Upwardly mobile and socially liberal, they epitomise India’s booming middle classes who are earning good money as the economy zips along with 9 per cent annual growth.

The US this week followed the EU in filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over India’s import tariffs on wine and spirit drinks. Both blocs have spent months attempting to persuade India to lower the tariffs, and force open a lucrative emerging market for US and EU-based wine and spirit firms. The US said exports to India remained low because drinks firms must pay duty tax in imports at rates ranging from 150 to 550 per cent.

“With its fast-growing middle class, India could be an important export market for American wines and distilled sprits if not for these layers of duties,” said US trade representative Susan Schwab.

“We have raised this issue with the Government of India on several occasions over a number of years.”

The dispute will now go to a 60-day consultation period at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If differences remain after this period, a WTO dispute panel will have to step in.

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