Lithuania’s Rum Deal

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Taiwan steps in to buy China-blacklisted Lithuanian Rum – but Lithuania doesn’t grow sugar cane. So, what exactly has Taiwan purchased? 

At the frankly bizarre spectrum of the Lithuania-China dispute comes the news that Taiwan, its new ‘Chinese’ best friend, has agreed to buy 20,400 bottles of ‘Lithuanian Rum’ that China had refused to allow to be imported into the country. Instead, Taiwan’s State-Owned Tobacco and Liquor Corp (TTL) said it bought the alcohol from Lithuania’s MV Group Production, and intends to distribute it to Taiwanese drinkers instead, stating that “TTL stood up at the right time, purchased the rum and brought it to Taiwan. Lithuania supports us and we support Lithuania – TTL calls for a toast to that.”

All’s well that ends well then in Gabrielius Landsbergis’s new version of ‘Lithuania-China trade.’ Or does it?

The problem with ‘Lithuanian Rum’ is that the principal ingredient of Rum is sugar cane, which is then processed according to a timely description from Angostura here.

But sugar cane doesn’t grow in Lithuania.

What the Lithuanians have done is purchase sugar cane molasses (a Rum base) from Trinidad and Tobago, distilled it in Lithuania, given it a brand name ‘Propellor Dark’ and plastered it with a large ‘Caribbean’ label and a ‘legendary collection’ sticker. It is about to be marketed in Taiwan as a ‘cocktail mixer’.

This is a selection of reviews of ‘Lithuanian Rum’

‘Earthy with strong vegetal fruit flavours’

‘Burning at the end’

‘Nothing fancy’

So, let’s get this product right.
Is it a Caribbean Rum? Not really.
Is it a Lithuanian Rum? Definitely not.
Does it have a huge carbon footprint, shipping molasses from Trinidad to Lithuania, and from Lithuania to Taiwan? Oh yes. That’s a distance of over 17,000km, or nearly half-way around the world.

How much does it retail for? $14.86.

While Lithuania’s MV Group might have got out of jail, the move could prove diplomatically problematic for Taipei’s few existing diplomatic supporters, which include countries such as Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St.Lucia, and St. Vincent and Grenadines, all of whom make highly sought after and fine rums and will not be happy that Taiwan is promoting ‘rum’ from an EU nation that doesn’t actually grow sugar cane. It could prove to be a real faux pas in Taiwan’s eagerness to chum up to an EU member state as well as souring Lithuanian and EU contacts (whatever they may be) in the Caribbean region.

For me, as a Rum drinker, it appears that Lithuania’s new ‘export to Taiwan’ policy isn’t really adding any value for real Lithuanian farmers, while Taiwan just purchased a dubious product with a serious carbon footprint problem. China meanwhile just dodged a bullet. My personal opinion? I wouldn’t have a bottle in my house. Rum is Rum and the principal ingredient does not originate in the Baltics. The Taiwanese are welcome to it though. Salut!

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About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists British and Foreign Investment into Asia and has 28 offices throughout China, India, the ASEAN nations and Russia. For strategic and business intelligence concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative please email silkroad@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com

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