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WSTA chief urges government action for £35bn UK wine sector

Published:  21 May, 2024

At the London Wine Fair 2024, Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), delivered a comprehensive ‘State of the Nation’ speech, reflecting on the past four and a half years of the UK wine market under various government administrations and outlining the sector’s needs from the next government.

Key economic contributions

Beale (pictured) began by emphasising the significant economic impact of the UK wine industry, the second-largest global wine importer by volume and value. In 2023, UK businesses imported over 1.6bn bottles of wine, contributing £35bn in economic activity and £8.9bn in GVA to the UK economy, supporting nearly 200,000 jobs across the supply chain.

Of those 1.6bn bottles, a significant proportion (440m litres) was imported in bulk and bottled in the UK. Last year, more wine was bottled in the UK than the annual production in Bordeaux, according to Beale.

Government's mixed record

Reviewing the government’s performance since the 2019 election, Beale described it as a “mixed bag”, with some positive outcomes, but also several policies that threatened the economic sustainability of UK wine businesses. While acknowledging the challenges of Brexit, he credited the government for removing the VI-1 import certificates, which previously imposed costly and unnecessary requirements on wine imports.

Regulatory challenges

Beale criticised the recent revision of the UK Alcohol Excise Duty, which moved from a volume-based system to a strength-based system, complicating tax calculations for the vast array of wines on the market. He called for the temporary easement, which simplifies duty for wines between 11.5-14.5% abv, to be made permanent to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens.

“We estimate there are well over 100,000 different wines on the UK market and probably many more when taking into account wines held in reserves,” said Beale.

“Under the previous system, payment of excise duty was simple. All that a business needed to know was whether the wine was still, fortified or sparkling and apply one of three amounts per bottle,” he added.

When the duty changes are fully implemented in February 2025, businesses will have to calculate the duty on every SKU.

“And to what end?” continued Beale. “Is it really good sense to stick dogmatically to applying the new rules while overwhelming businesses with unnecessary red tape and administrative burdens – for marginal gain to the treasury? Of course not – yet that’s a policy that this government seems hell-bent on pursuing.”

Environmental and social responsibility

Highlighting the industry's commitment to environmental sustainability, Beale called for immediate reforms to the Packaging Recycling Notes (PRNs) system and improvements in glass sorting and separation. He also stressed the importance of social responsibility, urging the industry to voluntarily provide ingredient and nutrition information on labels to avoid future regulatory mandates.

Future government relations

Looking ahead, Beale outlined several "asks" for the next government, emphasising the need for a collaborative approach to policy development that recognises the economic importance of the wine sector. He advocated for fair and proportionate taxation and regulation and highlighted the necessity of avoiding regulatory divergence within the UK and between the UK and EU to maintain smooth trade flows.


Beale concluded by reaffirming the WSTA’s commitment to ensuring the voice of the UK wine and spirit sector is heard both domestically and internationally. He stressed the importance of working closely with the government to foster economic growth, improve environmental outcomes and enhance social responsibility in the industry.

“As someone said to me recently,” Beale said, “it’s not easy to trade in the UK, but it’s also the most important market to be in.”