The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the largest global provider of wines and spirits qualifications, has suspended its operation in China indefinitely, one of its top markets, after it was reported that the education provider allegedly failed to comply with the country’s education laws and non-governmental organization (NGO) management law.
It’s not immediately known if the decision is prompted by an investigation or after WSET’s internal review of its China operations, but it’s understood the suspension involves all WSET courses and examinations inside China, with immediate effect.
According to an email sent out by WSET CEO Ian Harris to its China-based approved program providers (APPs), which is viewed by Vino Joy News, Harris wrote:” We wish to inform you that we are currently addressing some administrative issues regarding our activities in China. While we are working through these issues, we have been advised to recommend that APPs（授权教育机构）in China temporarily put their WSET related activities on hold and advise their students accordingly. This includes all WSET courses and related examinations.”
China for years ranked as one of WSET’s biggest markets for wine, spirits and sake education. Its ranking slid to No. 3 behind the US and the UK during the 2019-2020 academic year due to the pandemic, but in the previous year it attracted 18,206 annual candidates in mainland China, up by 20%, with over 170 approved program providers in the country.
Vino Joy News has reached out to WSET and its CEO Harris for comments on the allegations and suspension, but at the time of publishing, there’s no reply yet.
It’s not known what exactly promoted WSET’s decision. However, according to Chinese media reports, it’s alleged that WSET, an NGO, that offers education services did not in fact get approval from China’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Civil Affairs or get approval from local governments where it’s operating.
Vino Joy News can’t independently verify the allegations. In the same email Harris says it’s working hard with relevant organs to resume its operation inside mainland China.
“We are proactively communicating with the relevant authorities to resolve the matter. We will be working closely with WSET course providers to minimise any impact on WSET students and alumni and will keep them posted on any progress. Current students should contact their course providers with any enquires related to their WSET courses or exams,” according to a press release sent out by WSET today.
It’s also speculated the suspension might be related to China’s new foreign NGO management law, which came into effect in January 2017. WSET, which is registered as an NGO and operates as such in China, like many foreign NGOs is now under much closer scrutiny from Chinese government.
In the newly revised NGO management law, foreign NGOs are required to have an official Chinese sponsor or host organization, and have to be registered with Ministry of Public Security before they can conduct any work inside mainland China.
The law mandates that foreign NGOs must register with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) instead of Ministry of Civil Affairs or its provincial-level equivalents before establishing a representative office within mainland China.
Out of some 7,000 not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations in China, only close to 400 are registered, according to FT since the new law.
The abrupt news of suspension was met with mixed reactions in wine community in China.
Some online users welcomed the news. One applauded and said: “Any organization operating in China should respect Chinese laws”.
Others complained about wine education making wine consumption esoteric and pedantic. Ding Haoxiang wrote in comment under one of the Chinese reports, “[The qualification] is too lax. Any certificates below level 3 is meaningless. You can pass by paying.”
WSET began offering courses in China in 2006, and now over 170 APPs offer courses in the country. In 2016, with growing interest in wine education in Greater China, it opened its first international office in Hong Kong.
Headquartered in London, WSET was founded in 1969 and is regarded as one of the world’s leading providers of wine, spirits and sake education.
*The story is updated on February 1 to include WSET’s statement.