Wednesday 23 March 2016 3:33 pm

Wine and Spirits Trade Association members say industry will benefit more from EU membership than Brexit

The UK's alcohol industry would benefit more from Britain remaining in the European Union than leaving, the industry body Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WTSA) has said. 

Britain's wine and spirits industry is worth £45bn and supports nearly 600,000 jobs. The EU export market was worth £1.8bn in 2015.

Staying in the EU was endorsed by 90 per cent of the association's members who responded to an internal consultation on Brexit.

Two per cent of respondents backed the UK leaving Europe, while the remaining eight per cent were undecided or impartial.

A large majority of members, 91 per cent, also believed EU membership would have a positive impact on the wine and spirit industry, while 85 per cent thought the EU had a positive impact on their business and 69 per cent that the EU had a positive impact on customers. 

The WTSA asked its 300 members to fill out a questionnaire in a bid to understand their views, including the benefits of remaining and their key concerns about Brexit. 

As small- to medium-sized enterprises make up some 70 per cent of WSTA membership, one of the key benefits of remaining highlighted in responses was the unfettered access to the Single Market where a third of UK wine and spirits exports go, worth £1.7bn.

A Moore Stephens poll released last month showed six in 10 small UK businesses would vote for the UK to stay in the EU

Concerns about leaving the EU included a more uncertain trading environment, loss of access to the single market and the absence of a UK voice at the table to shape EU regulations by which the industry would still be bound.

Among the most common concerns about leaving the union, 81 per cent of respondents felt it would create an uncertain trading environment, another 81 per cent worried about complying with EU regulations without shaping them and 78 per cent were concerned about restricted access to the common market. 

WSTA members also expressed concerns over losing the benefit of the EU’s free trade agreements with third countries, affecting the status of the UK as a gateway to the EU. The potentially lengthy negotiations of bilateral agreements to replace them, not necessarily on better terms, could impact on £3.5bn worth of export trade outside the EU, the association claimed. 

"While all views were represented in our membership the vast majority is clear that the industry will better be able to invest, grow and create jobs if the UK remains in the Single Market. The industry needs a powerful UK voice within the EU to ensure that we can shape and influence regulations that will impact on the trade and its access to the EU's 500m consumers," Miles Beale, chief executive of the WTSA, said.

Speaking today, prime minister David Cameron has also warned that leaving the EU could put the industry at risk if it had to renegotiate bilateral deals for alcohol sales such as South Africa, the US, South Korea, China and India. 

"Britain will be stronger, safer and better off in a reformed Europe than out on our own, because we will have full participation in the free trade area, bringing jobs, investment, lower prices and financial security. That means real certainty so you can plan for the future," David Cameron said today.