Brexit: UK wine producers to lobby UK government over EU customs union and seasonal worker scheme
UK wine producers have urged the British government to maintain zero tariffs on wine and to establish a seasonal worker scheme ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The English Wine Producers body, EWP and the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA) have joined forces to lobby the government to keep Britain within the EU customs union and to ensure workers from Eastern Europe can continue to work at vineyards in Britain.
EWP Chairman, Simon Robinson said the demands from wine producers had been set out in a paper that will be addressed to Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Speaking exclusively to Harpers, Mr Robinson said: “The basic tenor is: we want a level playing field for us and overseas producers. The paper will say that we want zero tariff barriers; both importing in to the UK and importing into the EU for example, which is where we are at the moment.”
Robinson said that keeping Britain in the EU customs union was - with EU wine imports to the UK vastly outweighing UK exports to the EU - in the European Union’s interest. He added that the UK industry would be lobbying government for a more liberal regime on the use of chemicals on vineyards to enable producers to use the same range of chemicals used by competitors in fellow EU member states.
However, he said the predominant concern was the UK wine industry’s ability to maintain the use of labour from the EU.
“We do need a seasonal work scheme. The UK wine industry relies very heavily on East European labour, Romanians and Poles: in this respect our lobbying will be very similar to fruit farmers and other industries including the NHS,” he said.
“Our biggest concern I would think is the ability to maintain the use of EU labour: is not a quest of cost; it is more a question of the skill set because there are virtually no English people, we are aware of, who are actually skilled enough to do the sort of job we want on the pruning, bud rubbing and tying up harvest. The Romanians have been doing this on their vineyards for generations and they come here and it is easy,” Robinson said.
Fresh demands to government from the UK wine industry come after Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, is reported to have said this week that Britain was poised to leave the EU Customs Union as it prepares for Brexit negotiations and the triggering of Article 50.
Robinson, who is the owner of the Hattingley Valley vineyard in Hampshire, said that zero tariffs between UK and EU were still preferable to wine producers in Britain, despite acknowledging that tariffs for non-EU tariffs were low and that exports of English wine were currently focused on non-EU countries such as the US and Japan.
“All non-EU tariffs are dwarfed by what has happened to exchange rate; I still think that exchange rates are more important than tariffs,” but he added, that, in despite of this, zero tariffs with the EU were in the best interests of the UK wine industry.