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Working through Europe to boost the beer trade worldwide

On 29/10/13

It is fair to say that Europe has not had the best economic luck over the past five years. Overall the economies of the EU have seen growth of three per cent from the beginning of 2008 up to the end of 2012. Of course many countries have fared much worse, and some have outperformed others. In contrast the world's emerging markets have continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate than before the global financial meltdown. It's therefore not a surprise that Europe's leading companies are looking to these markets for export growth.

For all its critics the European Union has created a dynamic trading union within which the movement of goods between member states is relatively fluid. There are complications with dutiable goods, such as beer, but on the whole the system works well. Food safety standards and some labelling elements are rationally harmonised, and EMCS sets a common method for moving product.

Outside of the EU, however, it's not so easy. Many countries demand specialist testing of products, set import tariffs, create spurious rules on labelling and have preferential tax systems for domestic producers. All of this can make it very difficult for British (and other European) brewers to access these markets. This is where the European Commission can play, and indeed has played, a crucial role for businesses in the EU.

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the Market Access Working Group on Alcoholic Beverages (MAAC) meeting in Brussels. The BBPA was raising a specific point about trade barriers to the US, through our Brewers of Europe representation. Currently US small brewers can receive tax discounts in Europe, yet European small brewers can't receive the same benefits in the US, even though their domestic brewers do receive substantial subsidies. That just doesn't seem fair. We were there to make that point to the Commission and ask for their support in challenging this disparity. The case seems strong and the Commission agreed to look into the issue further.

As well as the US there were issues with many other countries on a range of issues. In Russia and South Korea there have been plans to re-define beer, plans which could exclude a number of beer brands from export; in Turkey excessive labelling requirements could close the market for many exported beers; Israel is demanding nutritional labelling, which means a whole new pack design.

All around the world Governments are proposing schemes, designed in their own nation, and rightly so. But we live in a global society and we need to make it as easy as possible for products to move across borders, and to avoid unnecessary protectionism. It will boost trade and create so much more choice for consumers, which can only be good for everyone!

We have the opportunity, through the European Commission and bodies like the Brewers of Europe, to challenge trade barriers and keep borders open for British beer – something that can only add to our long term success.


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