How Brexit is tying UK wine imports up in red tape

Britain’s wine importers and retailers are warning that customs hold-ups and more red tape will add £1 or more to the price of a £10 or £12 bottle.

They face a nervous start to trade post-Brexit, as they weigh up new restrictions on bringing shipments in from the EU.

Some business are reporting problems with paperwork, while others are yet to feel the pinch after stockpiling supplies in the run-up to January 1.

Even those with healthy stocks said while the last-minute deal struck with the EU offered some reassurance, they were still concerned about the impact of new customs procedures when they need to stock up again.

The WSTA – which represents members of the UK wine and spirits trade – said there was some relief that the threat of tariffs had subsided.

Chief executive Miles Beale said it was also good news that wine produced in the EU – or for that matter English wine imported into Europe – would not immediately be subject to the “much-feared, costly” VI-1 wine import certificate, which is on hold for six months.

He said: “Instead there will be a simplified import certificate with the eminently sensible prospect of the information being made available electronically in future – something which the WSTA has been calling for to benefit businesses both sides of the channel ever since the referendum.”

But Daniel Lambert, a wine wholesaler in Bridgend, Wales, who imports about 2 million bottles a year for 300 UK retailers, said post-Brexit bureaucracy could add £1 to £1.50 to the price of a bottle.

Last week he took to Twitter highlighting the complexities of the new HM Revenue and Customs system, tweeting: “While we knew Brexit would be a car crash we did not know it was going to be a multiple pile-up in the fog with fatalities.”

He said HMRC staff were trying their best to help, but said the intricacies of the forms he now had to fill in meant he had been temporarily unable to import wine from the EU.

He said it took him almost three weeks to get the documents in place before EU producers could start shipping to him again.

Even then he said he was watching the wine supply chain “collapse before my very eyes” as wine haulage companies faced added pressures getting shipments across the Channel.

He said: “Bearing in mind pre-Brexit I paid nothing on EU customs declarations and now that bill is over £150 per consignment, this cost is going to be passed on.

“But secondly the shortage of trucks willing to make the journey is also putting huge pressure on the supply chain.

“I now hope, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, to start seeing stock from early February.”

Duncan Murray, runs Duncan Murray Wines, said his shop in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, had been able to stay open through the latest lockdown, with strict social distance in place.

Sales, he said, had been solid through the pandemic. He also planned ahead, stockpiling wine before the January 1 changes.

He told BusinessLive: “I think the whole of the drinks trade is having issues.

“I took part in a Zoom presentation with the WSTA at the beginning of December, because a lot of us had put our heads in the sand and they were giving the lowdown of what we should be worried about.

“It sounded terrifying.

“The system of importing that was in place up until the end of December was a six point plan, but not it’s a 15 point plan, with extra paperwork, some of which is on hold for six months.

“The new system is the kind of thing the French would dream of because of the amount of bureaucracy that has been added. It’s much more fiddly.

“And if everything has to start going through lab analysis too, the European producers will be saying “why should we bother exporting to the UK?”.

“The vast majority of businesses that import wine to the UK imported masses in November and December, so won’t see an impact in the first few months of the year.

“We have shrunk down the amount we personally import from the EU since the referendum. It’s probably now about 10-15 per cent, which is still quite a considerable quantity.

“We will still do it, but there is more paperwork, and the shipper we use will have more paperwork, and that will be more cost.

“They’ve said we should add on an extra week to 10 days to the typical two-three weeks it takes to import.

“I hope things have calmed down a bit by the time I need to import again in maybe a month’s time.”

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