Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Brexit-focused WSTA Conference delivers greater clarity - on extent of uncertainty

Published:  13 September, 2017

The WSTA’s Miles Beale called on the government for “more active partnership, more communication and to get more done” at its annual conference in London on Tuesday, which delivered insights into the complexity of Brexit, along with the gulf of uncertainty that still exists for the UK drinks trade.

With Beale describing Brexit as “the theme of today, the theme of the year and probably the theme of a generation”, he stressed the need to “minimise disruption of trade flows and maximise opportunities, including enhanced international free trade”, while also warning “we can’t as an industry move from being ignored by Government to being undermined by a bungled Brexit”.

WSTA chairman Dan Jago said that 2017 so far had been “a dramatic year, but one where we seem to have not moved forward at all”.

Jago also highlighted the “overarching challenge all face; that of understanding Brexit - of tax, foreign exchange, value of trade, balance of exports,” while stating that “a hard Brexit will not work for our industry”.

These industry concerns over uncertainty and the WSTAs favouring a ‘soft’ Brexit contrasted with the position of keynote speaker Lord Price, who until recently held the role of Minister of State for Trade, favouring a clear ‘in or out’ Brexit, with no middle ground.

“[Brexit] is the biggest task faced as country since the Second World War, but for me that isn’t the biggest issue,” said Price, insisting that people were getting “too bogged down in the details of Brexit”, rather than looking at “the long view, what we want the country to be in five, 10, 15 or 20 years time.”

“There are two economically literate end positions – either we stay as we are today, or we leave completely. A half way house is sub-optimal for the UK, a Norway model is sub-optimal, [becoming] a rule taker, not a rule maker, not where we want to be in terms of our country and our future trade,” Price argued.

“I have talked to 17 members of the EU and they all say it is very clear, either we haver to be a full member or leave,” he added.

Price faltered when asked how the industry could avoid short-term disruption, and the political classes were also criticised for “fumbling” while businesses were continuing to be left in uncertainty.

What Price and other speakers, including Sir Simon Fraser, ex-head of the UK foreign office and diplomatic service, and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, partner specialising in international trade and government regulation practice at Dechert LLP, did agree on is the need for a smooth transition period, during which trade with Europe remained as close to the current EU membership trade relationship as possible.

Despite the stress that uncertainty and foreign exchange is already causing for the UK drinks trade, there was however optimism expressed by both trade and the more politically oriented commentators present that sense would prevail as the UK and EU have far too much mutual interest in sustaining fairly parallel levels of trade with each other.

If the UK does crash out with a hard Brexit, however, Price warned that “businesses need to be in fighting form” and “to start preparing now”, if they are to ride out what would undoubtedly be a “very disruptive” period and be fully ready to capitalise on opportunities on the [non-EU] world stage.