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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

The Wine Trade Action Group (WTAG) - a pressure group formed this year by 33 leading UK wine companies - has released the first study which looks at wine's role in binge drinking, and has reported good progress' on fiscal issues following a meeting with the Treasury. The independently-produced study - a response to the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy published earlier this year - found that wine was not a major factor in drinkers bingeing, but that complacency was not an option. Although we are not one of the main drink categories associated with binge drinking, wine is part of the problem,' said WTAG chairman Mike Paul. Any member of the wine trade who claims binge drinking is nothing to do with them and looks down haughtily as other industry categories deal with it is wrong.' WTAG has also formulated a Social Responsibility Code of Practice for the UK Drinks Industry. This is basically a code that all 30-plus members of WTAG are prepared to sign up to. We've passed it on to the WSA to use in discussion with other drinks trade associations,' said Paul. We're not trying to tell other sectors what to say and do. We can only put it out there and see what people say.' The Portman Group welcomed both the code and the research but added that we, much like the Government, take the view that alcohol is alcohol is alcohol'. Regarding the meeting with the consumption taxes team at the Treasury (which was facilitated by the WSA), David Cox, vice-president of Brown-Forman Europe and a WTAG committee member, said: There's a new team there now who seem prepared to listen and learn about the effect these taxes have, especially on small businesses. I think it was genuinely surprised at the turmoil these duty rises can cause in the trade. They dropped some pretty strong hints that alcohol duty harmonisation was not an option, and that tax levels on alcohol would increase, but they seemed prepared to work with the WSA and the trade to minimise disruption.' Paul added: There's little chance that we will have any influence on the 2005 budget, especially considering the impending election, but this was predominantly a fact-finding mission, and we now have some useful pointers on developing a strategy to target the 2006 budget.' The other main issue facing WTAG, namely its relationship with the WSA, is still to be dealt with. The WSA's decision to look at its own purpose and structure means WTAG will probably have to wait until the outcome of the WSA working group's report, due next summer, before tackling this issue. Cox said he was pleased that WTAG has acted as a catalyst' for the WSA to look at its role, while Paul added: The WSA has obviously decided that it needs to change the way it operates, and we are happy to be included in the consultation process. It has put an excellent group of people together and I, like anyone in the trade, am keen to see the results.'