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Beale: “Minimum pricing not a forgone conclusion”

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, has urged the trade to promote a positive image of the industry in the face of “aggressive” government policies.

Miles Beale

Speaking at the WSTA’s annual conference this morning, Beale was both introducing himself to the trade as well as laying out the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Minimum unit pricing was top of the list of challenges with Beale saying that it was a “pretty aggressive change in tactics” from the government and the trade was quite right to “pause and consider” its co-operation if the government was now applying a “big stick” approach.

Beale said that it was still a difficult time for the trade and government policy “was not really helping”.

“I think it’s the thin end of the wedge,” he stated. He added that the legal challenges were still strongly in the trade’s favour, with Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal and Italy all having complained about the measure and another four countries having raised concerns.

“It is not a foregone conclusion,” he said and added that it would need to be challenged because “the outcome of minimum pricing will dictate the pace of further government reforms”.

He concluded by saying that it was the trade that needed to take the lead in promoting how important it was to the country and the economy.

“We need to promote a way to solve the problems that the trade has acknowledged exist,” he said, “and we need to do it in a way that both bolsters the trade’s image and indeed works.

“It’s very easy on the medical side to say how bad alcohol is for you and it’s much harder to push a positive narrative based on jobs and growth,” he conceded.

Nonetheless he said that it was the trade that had to “influence the agenda. Lead and not follow”.

Beale had begun his talk by saying that after Christmas the WSTA would be “reviewing” its various roles, but only in order to make sure it was fulfilling its responsibilities fully.

Communication and social responsibility would remain top of the agenda and Beale appealed to the trade to contact the WSTA.

“We’re keen to know what more we can do to help you,” he added, “particularly in this tricky economic environment.”

Beale was preceded by Sir Howard Davies, former director of the London School of Economics and chairman of the Financial Services Authority among other posts, who gave a talk on the current economic situation and his own forecast on what the future may hold in store.

The outlook was fairly bleak. He said that on-going recession was “baked in a cake” and prospects for Europe were, “pretty flat”.

He stated his amazement that Greece was still going but added that continued financial and political turmoil could very likely push Greece back to the drachma.

He saw the UK “drifting to the periphery of Europe” as the continent went towards closer banking and monetary union and also that the economy was likely to “move gently sideways for a while.”

Foreign currencies such as the Canadian and Australian dollars were likely to remain strong and the euro may be slipping back again after “rising too far on the European Central Bank’s recent moves”.

A euro split between the northern and Mediterranean countries is not impossible, the US is on the brink of a “fiscal cliff” that it will have to deal with next year very likely and there were signs that China is “definitely slowing down”.

Through it all at least, he concluded, global growth both this year and next was forecast to be higher than it was a few years ago.

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