The WSTA’s annual conference this month recorded its largest ever attendance figures, according to chairman Dan Jago.

Brexit was high on the agenda and chief executive Miles Beale highlighted the WSTA’s repeated messages to Government on this issue on behalf of the industry. He also outlined the WSTA’s five-year Draft Strategic Plan.

On the subject of Brexit, Beale – who noted that the past 12 months have been his busiest in his five years in the role – said: “We can and should expect the government to do more for us. Last year we published our Brexit papers and we were one of the first industries to do so. If Brexit is to be a success then it has to be driven by what the UK needs. We are a £50bn industry and we account for well over half a million jobs. We can’t stand by and watch our industry being undermined.

“We are not suggesting that the UK should not leave the EU but we are suggesting that after 40 years it is only right we leave in a way that is not disruptive to business. There has been too little progress and too much posturing. With E2.5bn worth of wine crossing in one direction and E2.7bn the other way the case for a mutual deal is clear.”

The UK is the sixth largest importer of spirits by value and fourth by volume, according to the WSTA and it currently exports £1.6bn of spirits to the EU.

Within this, Beale highlighted the success of gin, which is now the UK’s seventh most valuable food and drink export, behind whisky, chocolate, beer, salmon, cheese and wine and ahead of beef and soft drinks. The UK exports £200m of Gin to the EU, and gin exports overall have seen a 166% increase in value terms since 2000.

Beale stressed that while the UK’s food and drink industry is a strong sector, these are challenging times. He said: “Consumer spending is flat, wage growth is subdued, import prices are up 8% between Q4 2015 and Q1 2017.

“The UK wine and spirits industry is a success but it is under-appreciated, and over taxed. The government is likely to increase this further at the autumn budget. This insidious spiral needs to stop.”

WSTA also released its draft 2017 to 2022 Strategic Plan, which highlights four pillars of focus. These are designed to ensure the UK wine and spirit industry is: appropriately regulated and taxed; internationally focused; socially responsible; and collaborative.