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Blog | 01 March, 2022
2020 was always likely to be a challenging year for the UK’s wine and spirits industry, with businesses at every level of the supply chain preparing for the end of the Transition period on 31 December. Businesses had no certainty around the conditions under which they would be trading come 2021, but endeavoured to prepare as best they could before the UK left the Single Market and Customs Union. Suffice to say that the onset of Coronavirus was not part of the plan for the year… and it certainly has not helped any of us.
The hope for the WSTA and all its members was that 2020 would be a year in which clarity was provided so that businesses could make their final preparations. The extent to which the UK was able to secure trade agreements with its largest trading partners would also be a key factor in helping businesses understand the landscape post-Transition. But priorities had to shift with the arrival of Coronavirus, measures to combat it and the commercial and financial implications of forced closures and falling demand for pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues for large parts of the year.
Yet, despite the circumstances, the WSTA has remained focused on representing the interests of all our members. By tirelessly lobbying the Government over the issues of labelling requirements and new import certificates for EU wines we have helped bring about two significant delays which will prove beneficial for the industry, and which affords businesses some certainty and clarity in these deeply uncertain times.
First, the Government announced a grace period for labelling on all alcoholic products, giving businesses until September 2022 to change their labels in line with new requirements. This was followed by the Government updating its guidelines for importing and exporting wine from 1 January 2021. The changes made at the end of October stipulated that VI-1 certificates will not be required for EU wine imported into Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) from 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021.
Both of these developments came as a welcome relief for the WSTA and our members after such a challenging year. However, the celebrations were tempered by the knowledge that these are merely partial victories, that more work is required to change the government’s approach and that answers are still needed to many questions – and time to give businesses these answers is fast running out.
For labelling, there are questions around whether two importer addresses will be allowed on labels placed on the EU market, and whether there will be a grace period for goods sold in Northern Ireland. A grace period here would support spirits producers who will be required to include both a UK duty stamp and an EU/NI address. The WSTA continues to work with officials to ensure they understand the concerns of our industry around labelling.
On the issue of VI-1s the work still required is even greater. The UK is a world-leading hub for the global wine industry, and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU represents an opportunity to build on that position. However, with only a six-month delay to introducing costly and burdensome VI-1 forms, the Government has served only to kick the can down the road.
Wine is the nation’s favourite drink – 99% of wine consumed by the UK’s 33 million wine drinkers is imported, and over 50% of that comes from the EU. Should VI-1s be required, as remains government policy, they will serve only to increase costs and reduce choice for consumers. Government must move to abolish the requirement for VI-1s altogether so that the UK can pursue the new opportunities in line with Downing Street’s vision for a Global Britain.
Abolishing VI-1 forms outright would also present the UK Government with a rare and clear opportunity to implement a new, modern approach that makes use of technology and which could comfortably be incorporated into the Government’s existing programme to have the ‘smartest’ borders in the world – its Border 2025 agenda. It remains the WSTA’s hope that Ministers see and grasp a rare opportunity to give UK wine traders a competitive edge in the international wine market. We believe it is the perfect chance for the UK to make a clear statement about its pro-free trade credentials as we forge our path as an independent trading nation once again.
The WSTA will not relent in its attempts to prise the right answers out of government to help its members prepare for the future. And we won’t cease campaigning to end the requirement for VI-1 certificates on wine imported into the UK. If 2020 has taught as anything it is that best laid plans can quickly be disrupted, and that flexibility and focus are vital. By listening to our members and understanding what they want, we can help them to prepare, to prioritise and to lobby effectively on their behalf . For, whatever the next few months bring, we owe it to ourselves to leave 2020 behind us – and focus on the future.