The WSTA believes a 'no deal' Brexit is not acceptable

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association has reassured its members that it will continue to offer support and advice in preparation for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, although the organisation stressed that it doesn’t believe that this outcome is acceptable.   

In his speech at this year’s annual WSTA conference, chief executive, Miles Beale, said: “The WSTA has long been holding seminars and meeting members to talk through what the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario might look like and what companies should be doing to mitigate the risks associated with a hard Brexit. I have to say we are underwhelmed with what we have seen from Government. Information is too basic and ducks most of the questions we have been asking."

Beale also commented on the issue of border checks.

He said: “I see absolutely no reason why ECMS could not be used as a model for how to move goods – all goods not just alcoholic drinks – between the UK and EU once we have left the EU. Place the onus on importer for product safety – as is the case now – and make use of technology and there’s a plausible – and, more importantly, tried and tested, model.”

Beale stressed that the WSTA has concerns about how long the government is taking to make decisions about Brexit. He said: “It is particularly not being ready in time that worries us; the clock has not stopped ticking.

“A deal on the Withdrawal Agreement is neither far off nor is it far-fetched. WSTA believes firmly that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would not be acceptable. Glib political statements about the UK being able to thrive under WTO terms are just that – glob. They fail to take into account the damage that the inevitable short-term disruption at our borders. And there will be disruption because whatever the Government has said about UK controls – they have no say in the controls on goods, vehicles and people leaving the EU for the UK or entering the EU from the UK. So that’s why it is essential that the Government secures a negotiated withdrawal.”

Also at the conference senior London-based economist, Roger Bootle, discussed the possible outcomes of Brexit and how these might affect the drinks trade, alongside the former German Ambassador to the UK and senior advisor at Flint Global, Thomas Matussek.

Bootle kicked off discussions by admitting he is not as worried about the future health of the UK economy now as he was 10 years ago after the fall of Leemans, when he was “incredibly scared”.

He said: “I am scared now but for very different reasons. I feel it is better than it was. However it is the international scene: President Trump and his erratic personality. All this is deeply worrying.”

“The UK economy is doing quite well but it could do better. The good thing is the UK’s labour market; unemployment is at an extraordinary level.

“Consumers are under a lot of strain. The restaurant sector and much of the high street is under pressure. But the economy is not in a terrible state. The UK’s restaurant businesses have over-expanded.”

Bootle said the EU had “major problems” and therefore he supported leaving the EU, but he said that while negotiations have been handled badly by the government, there are still opportunities for the UK to benefit form leaving.

“The EU is a very bad negotiator of trade deals. You have to get agreements from all countries and all members of those countries. In contrast lots of small countries have lots of big trade deals.”

He stressed that for UK wine importers “it's going to be painful” in the short-term, but when we leave the key job will be to decide what our tariffs will be.

“We could impose zero tariffs on wine imports but that will have to be across all countries. WTO doesn’t set the rates but it imposes the rules. Any free-trade agreements we set up would supercede that rule. So if we had 5% tariff on imports of wine and then we set up a free-trade agreement with Australia with a zero tariff, that would supercede the WTO rule.”

Matussek said he hoped the UK would return to the EU, following a second referendum, which he hoped would take place in the future.

He added: “The UK would be welcomed back with open arms.”

Both agreed that a “Canada plus-style deal” was “the way forward”. 

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