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Brexit day: ‘Embrace the brave new world,’ says UK wine body

Rule changes and new ways of working could lead to more wine being available in the UK after Brexit, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association has said, calling on members to ‘embrace a brave new world’.

Wine industry leaders have issued a series of reasons to be upbeat as Brexit day finally arrived for the UK, on 31 January 2020. 

Much of the wine trade was in favour of remaining in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, but Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said this week that it was important to ‘embrace a brave new world of trading’.

And he floated the idea that, rather than losing out, UK consumers may have access to even more wines in future.

‘We have started with some clear asks of government which, if practical steps are taken, we believe will keep the UK as the world’s number one spirit exporter, but could also see us take the top spot as the world’s largest wine importer by volume – from Germany,’ he said.

High on the WSTA’s wish-list is zero tariffs on wine imports; all eyes will be on the trade negotiations between EU and UK officials this year.

Around 55% of wine in the UK is imported from the EU and there has been concern that, without a trade deal in place, wine prices could rise in the UK. A weaker sterling currency since the 2016 referendum has already contributed to price rises in recent years, alongside duty tax increases.

‘It’s time to complete a trade deal with the EU – and move on,’ said Beale.

The WSTA has noted chancellor Sajid Javid’s recent comments on the UK’s willingness to diverge from EU regulations. 

Beale spoke of ‘clunky and outdated EU rules’ on wine and spirits that the UK might seek to drop.

‘It’s not as if we’re looking to throw away the rule book,’ the WSTA’s European and internal affairs director, Simon Stannard, told Decanter.com. 

But, he said there was potentially an opportunity to be more flexible. The UK could, for example, join the ‘world wine trade group’, which counts many of the largest non-EU wine producing nations as members – from Australia to Argentina. The group accepts winemaking rules of other members, albeit within the context of what is allowed at regulatory and OIV level. 

‘We’ve been an industry observer at WWTG since 2016,’ said Stannard.

The WSTA has also held preliminary discussions with government on a new computer system might be created to simplify the process of importing and exporting wines, replacing the reliance on current EU systems.

However, it’s early days. For now, many wineries, merchants and retailers will just be glad that no-deal didn’t materialise; at least not before the opportunity for trade talks between EU and UK officials.

‘We were anxious a year ago,’ said Louis-Fabrice Latour, president of Burgundy wine council, the BIVB. 

‘Personally I would like the UK to stay, but things are very different from a year ago,’ he said, adding that producers and merchants were now better prepared.

He added that turmoil elsewhere in the world, and notably tariffs on wine entering the US, had also offered some perspective.

There is concern about the future health of the post-Brexit UK economy, but it remains the second biggest destination for Burgundy wines. ‘Why not focus more on the UK? The market is there,’ Latour said.

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