With Article 50 set to be triggered this week, The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has called for a “close working relationship with both government and our European neighbours”, as the UK starts to negotiate its exit from the EU.

The WSTA said trade association colleagues across the Channel have vowed to keep Europe’s “special relationship” with the UK wine and spirits industries and join the fight for a free trade agreement.

The President of Comite Europeen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), the trade association representing the remaining 27 member states, branded the UK wine market of the “utmost importance” for EU wine producers. And the WSTA, representing more than 300 UK businesses, has pledged to “stand together” with European colleagues to maintain its free flows of trade.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: “The triggering of Article 50 signifies an historic moment as the UK begins a new journey. For our trade, this chapter will bring both challenges and opportunities. The WSTA will be working tirelessly to achieve our key aims: continued, tariff-free movement of wines and spirits to and from the EU, new, tariff-free trade agreements with priority countries outside the EU and equally safe passage of goods without extra checks and borders once we have left the Customs Union.

“A phased leaving process will allow time to establish an EU free trade agreement and to put in place the necessary systems and infrastructure. Failure to do so, risks disruption to supply chains, chaos at UK ports, increases in costs for UK businesses and ultimately even higher prices for consumers.

“We stand together with our European Trade Association partners in our joint ambition to secure free trade flows. We have repeatedly said to Government since the referendum that the only way to achieve its aim for a frictionless Brexit is for the Governement and industry to work in partnership.”

Jean Marie Barillere, president of CEEV, said: “EU wines and UK consumers have had a special relationship for centuries and shall continue to have it despite Brexit. With EU wines representing about 55% of UK wine imports, there is no doubt that the UK market is of utmost importance for EU wine producers, and that the British really appreciate European wines. Ensuring smooth wine trade flows is important to both the EU and the UK economies.”

Ignacio Sanchez Recarte, secretary general of CEEV, added: “The overall objective of the CEEV is to ensure that there will be no disruption of wine trade flows between the UK and the EU-27. To allow business and administrations to adapt to the new system of trade relations – a future EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – ti will be fundamental that leaders on both sides of the Channel agree on a transitional period and on a FTA in a time frame that will reduce uncertainty as much as possible.”