Wine trade weighs in against Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing

Nik Darlington 9.48am

In the spring, David Cameron announced that the Government would set a minimum unit price for alcohol and ban multi-buy discounts in England. The policy is presently under consultation, with legislation promised in the autumn.

The Scottish Parliament, meanwhile, has already ratified a ban last year on “irresponsible” alcoholic drinks promotions (which apparently caused a fall in sales even in the typically busy pre-Christmas period).

Alex Salmond’s Scottish government is also determined to press on with its plan to introduce minimum alcohol pricing at 50 pence per unit (25 per cent higher than David Cameron’s proposed 40 pence).

The Scotch whisky industry’s opposition to the SNP’s policy - which could mean a bottle of blended whisky’s costing at least £14 - is well documented. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) recently submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission and is seeking a judicial review in the Scottish courts. Whisky producers claim that the SNP’s minimum pricing would breach EU trade laws.

Now, according to the Express, the wine trade is getting in on the act too. The Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) has joined forces with the SWA to oppose minimum unit pricing on the grounds that wine is classified as an “agricultural product” by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). And like other agricultural products - such as sugar - wine is regulated at the EU level or else there is the risk of breaching trade laws.

The SNP says it shall carry on regardless with its “proportionate public health measures”.

There is an irony here in that minimum alcohol pricing could be in the interests of some members of the wine trade, principally independent merchants who are undercut by supermarkets’ volume purchasing power and aggressive discounting. Supermarkets make 80 per cent of wine sales in the UK. Minimum pricing could make the independents more competitive on price.

Furthermore, approximately three-quarters of all alcohol purchased in the UK is on discount - far and away the highest proportion in the EU. Restrictions on alcohol promotion would hit supermarkets’ BOGOF and multi-buy attractions, and offer another silver lining for smaller wine merchants.

But one thing is for sure. The SNP is finding out the hard way that genuine independence only runs so deep within the realms of the European Union.

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