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"New chapter" for the trade as May triggers Article 50

Published:  29 March, 2017

A historic moment in British politics and the beginning of a new chapter for the UK alcohol industry took placed this morning when Theresa May signed the letter that will formally begin the UK's departure from the EU.

The prime minister gave official notice of the UK's intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this morning, ushering in a new phase of trade negotiations for the UK and EU.

Miles Beale, CEO of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said that 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, he said, "risks disruption to supply chains, chaos at UK ports, increases in costs for UK businesses and ultimately even higher prices for consumers".

Earlier this week, the WSTA warned the government that if border controls break down, "delays and gridlocks" at ports will encourage the resurgence of alcohol smugglers.

Today, Beale reiterated his hopes for a "frictionless Brexit" by highlighting the importance that government and industry work together to protect Britain's trading future.

"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 at borders once we have left the Customs Union," he said.

The Comite Europeen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), which represents the wine trade in the EU's remaining 27 member states, was also at pains to stress the importance of the UK wine market for EU producers following May's triggering of Article 50 this morning.

"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," its president, Jean Marie Barillère, said.

Inevitably, some are less optimistic about the future of trade deals with Europe.

SumOfUs, a global consumer watchdog with a strong the UK, has outlined their concerns about the risk of "secretive" trade deals could could affect everything from the right to work to food and drink production. 

"We're two years away from its official implementation, but Brexit is already threatening our current way of life by way of secretive trade policies that favour wealth corporations over the populations they serve," SumOfUs executive director Hannah Lownsbrough, said.

"Theresa May's Lancaster recent House speech revealed that she sees trade with non-European countries as key for proving her Brexit strategy a success, which means the UK may be forced to capitulate with leaders like Donald Trump and their overtly pro-corporate agendas.

"Until we fully 'Brexit', these trade deals are unlikely to become operational, but with secretive, informal negotiations in full swing, it's high time robust scrutiny of May's trade plans kicks in, too."

Lownsbrough pointed to TTIP and CETA as examples trade models which threaten to create "closed courts, which could potentially close off negotiations between corporations and governments from external scrutiny.

Labour and worker's rights as well as worsening standards in food production are in pole position be at risk from the early stages of Brexit negotiations, she added.

The UK and Europe now have two years to reach an agreement, meaning the UK will leave on March 29, 2019, unless the deadline for negotiations is extended. 

At the end of next month, a meeting of 27 EU leaders (without the UK) will agree to give the European Commission a mandate to begin negotiations with Britain.