Plans to set a minimum price for wine in Scotland are coming up against the complex bureaucracy of the European Union's agriculture trade rules.
Wine is an agricultural product and may be exempt from minimum pricing law
European wine trade body CEEV (Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins) says wine’s status as an agricultural product means it is governed by the EU’s Common Market Organisation rules, and therefore is exempt from rulings on price.
‘It is explicitly written that it’s not possible to have marketing rules on price,’ the CEEV’s Sylvain Naulin told Decanter.com.
The argument could present Scotland’s government with an added headache in its attempt to levy a 50-pence-per-unit lower price on alcohol. The UK government also favours minimum pricing for England and Wales.
However, European Commission officials can grant exceptions in ‘certain circumstances’, an agriculture spokesperson told Decanter.com, although ‘It is true that as a general rule [a] member state cannot fix a minimum price for an agricultural product.’
Scotland’s ministers are betting on a public health argument. ‘We are confident that this does not prevent us from pursuing proportionate public health measures for Scotland,’ a government spokesperson said in response to the CEEV statement.
The CEEV’s complaint comes in addition to its legal challenge to minimum pricing on competition grounds in the UK and Brussels, announced last week in tandem with the Scotch Whisky Association and European spirits trade group CEPS.
‘European law is clear – minimum pricing is an illegal barrier to trade,’ said CEPS director-general Paul Skehan.
Some legal experts are yet to be convinced. ‘It’s not really a discrimination, because it would affect all alcohol equally, whether imported or not,’ said Angus MacCulloch, EU competition law specialist and senior lecturer at Lancaster University.
European Commission lawyers are not expected to report on the Scottish plans until mid-September at the earliest.
Written by Chris Mercer