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Miles Beale: Trade deal will be within the week or not at all

Published:  25 November, 2020

Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) chief executive Miles Beale has said that the UK is likely to get ‘something or nothing’ in terms of a trade deal over the coming week, while insisting that a ‘deal is still better than no deal at all’.

Time is running out for the UK’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost to secure the future of a trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

Beale and the WSTA have said repeatedly over the past few years that a deal – even a flimsy one – is better than nothing at all, as it would eliminate a number of complex tariffs that come into effect with WTO rules.

The EU is notoriously last minute when it comes to making deals. However, now we’re just 36 days away from a new, post-Brexit world, time to ratify a deal within parliament and the EU’s 27 member states is fast slipping away.

“If there’s a deal, you would expect it to be tariff-free, quota-free trade with the EU,” Beale told Harpers. “In which case, there wouldn’t be tariffs at all. Full stop. Of course, it’s not just about moving goods. It’s about exchange of information – it’s about various protocols and a recognition of each other’s systems. We know we’re going to get disruption. We signed up for that when [the nation said it] wanted borders at the edge of the UK. But if there’s a deal, it will be simpler.”

Part of this simplicity comes from elimination of wrangling over WTO tariffs, including a global tariff which could include the Common Customs Tariff (CCT).

While not entirely optimistic about the chance of getting a deal over the line in time, Beale is actually more focused on separate areas of regulation.

Speaking with Harpers this morning, he once again highlighted the potential impact of measures like VI-1 forms, which have probably been “the biggest single threat to the wine and spirits industry” proposed during the transition period.

“We’ve had some success in that the government has agreed to delay the introduction of the forms by six months, which gives us six months longer to make the case that they shouldn't be introduced at all. But it doesn’t guarantee that that will happen.

“VI-1s are a whole package of useless things. There’s absolutely no reason not to have anything other than electronic forms. VI-1s are paper, and there’s very little information on there that’s of use or interest. Lab tests for acidity levels? Why? There are two useful things that will be wonderful to include and that’s grape varietals and abv, but there’s no reason that you would need a lab test for those, and there's no reason that they should be on a paper form.”

Best case scenario, VI-1s will be scrapped by July 2021, with relevant information – grape variety and abv – migrated over to the CDS system, (formerly CHIEF), which – Beale believes – will likely be used as the post-transition version of the European EMCS system that tracks the movement of good across the EU.

For the full interview with Miles Beale and the latest on Brexit as we head towards the January deadline, see the upcoming issue of Harpers, published online and in print on 4 December.