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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

The recently formed Wine Trade Action Group (WTAG) is to focus on two key issues - the annual increases in wine duty and alcohol misuse - as it attempts to make the trade's views better heard by the Government. The group also stressed that it did not want to be seen was rival to the Wine and Spirit Association (WSA), but simply a pressure group'. WTAG chairman Mike Paul, managing director of Western Wines, and vice chairman Nick Hyde, managing director of Percy Fox, outlined the pressure group's plans at last week's London International Wine & Spirit Fair (LIWSF). Thirty -two members now belong to WTAG (which was launched this January), with 12 members forming the committee. Hyde will lead a six-person committee dealing with social and fiscal issues, while Paul will head a committee of the same size to look at the group's relationship with the WSA. Paul explained that it is pretty clear that the Government plans to raise duty in line with inflation every year, so we need to look at finding a better way of implementing the rise. We aren't informed about the rise until the last moment and retailers have to deal with it in 48 hours.' Asked why other industries can deal with tax rises better than the wine trade Hyde said that wine has internal issues' that separate it from petrol and cigarettes. The small increases put the trade under an administrative burden disproportionate to the scale of the rise,' he said. At Justerini & Brooks, for example, we list 5,000 wines and we have to speak to every client and every producer and change all the literature. The importance of price points is also an issue.' David Cox, vice-president of Brown-Forman Europe and a member of the WTAG committee, added that the whole group is behind finding a better way forward on the issue. We had our first proper meeting last week, and we had huge consensus on the main issues. We have also had great support from retailers.' Discussing the alcohol misuse issue Paul said that the wine trade was somewhat complacent' over its role in the wider issue of alcohol misuse. There is a perception in the trade that it is not part of the problem, but we need to find out if that is correct. There is a real lack of information on the issue, which is something we need to work on. Young women drinking a lot of wine before they go out, for example, could be seen as a problem.' WTAG intends to draw up a code of practice for wine importers and distributors regarding responsible marketing and packaging, building on The Portman Group Code of Practice. The Government gave the industry 12 months to "put its house in order" in the Strategy Unit Report or face legislation,' said Paul, and although wine is certainly not as irresponsible as other sectors, it is behind RTDs, beers and spirits in formulating a response.' Hyde added: We have had a very constructive meeting with Jean Coussins, chief executive of The Portman Group, and there is no reason why we can't produce a code that calls for things over and above the Portman Code. Whether that means unit labelling or moderation statements, we don't know at present.' Regarding its relationship with the WSA, Paul said: We are not being critical of the WSA by setting up this group. Maybe in the past the industry has been complacent and has not given the WSA enough guidance about the issues we face. The WSA has a much wider remit and we want to be very focused. We may even affiliate with the WSA in future and that is something we will look at.'