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Brexit, Bordeaux en primeur and the fine wine market

Brexit, Bordeaux en primeur and the fine wine market

14th March, 2019
Colin Hay

The anticipation of Brexit, with or with no deal, is causing considerable consternation amongst wine-merchants, wine-brokers, and wine-lovers alike. At present, in fact, we have no idea whether Britain will depart the EU on 29 March (or a couple of months later) – and, if it does so, whether or not it is going to achieve this with or with no deal.

That uncertainly is itself already a problem, since it’s in fact troublesome to organize for a probably imminent ‘known unknown’ with such probably excessive stakes. The result’s a specific amount of hysteria fuelled, a minimum of partially, by a predictable combination of data and misinformation about the doubtless results of Brexit. In what follows I try to sift reality from fiction and the more possible from the less possible – though that is no straightforward process.

So what may happen, what might happen and what are the stakes for Britain’s fine wine brokers and merchants in the run-up to the Bordeaux 2018 en primeur campaign of Brexit – and what implications does this have for lovers of fine wine in Britain?

How is the market more likely to change over the next few months and what steps have main wine-merchants and brokers put in place to protect each shoppers and themselves from the potential penalties of the Brexit that they worry the most?

To assist me answer these questions I spoke at some length to numerous senior figures in the London fine wine market – notably, Max Lalondrelle at Berry Brothers & Rudd, Stephen Browett at Farr Vintners and Patrick O’Connor and his workforce at Fine & Rare Wines, adding to the dialog my very own ideas and reflections as a tutorial political economist who specialises on wine markets.

What turned immediately clear to me in my interviews was how in a different way leading actors in the market have positioned themselves with respect to Brexit – the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit particularly. Some have put in place complicated and pricey contingency planning – pre-purchasing their euros for the en primeur campaign to return and using obtainable storage (the place they have it) to stockpile retail wines for the next months to bypass any speedy Brexit disruption.

But others have finished primarily nothing, biding their time and/or discounting the probability of Britain leaving the EU with no deal at the finish of the month (or, certainly, a number of months down the line). However what can also be clear is that these divergent strategies are informed by a standard understanding of the potential dangers of Brexit for London’s place in the international fine wine market.

There are a selection of things at play, every with a collection of associated dangers.


Deal or no deal?

The primary and perhaps the best to cope with is the question of import duties. While this has maybe given rise to the biggest nervousness among shoppers, for those I spoke to in the trade it is, and all the time has been, a non-issue. The rationale for this is easy – the WTO’s default price of obligation on wine is low and linked not to the worth of the good (a bottle or case of wine) but the amount of alcohol within it and the quantity bought (obligation is payable as a hard and fast worth per bottle).

What’s more, in so far as this was a problem, it has been resolved a minimum of for the subsequent 12 months by the UK government’s publication (this week) of its (hypothetical) tariff regime in the case of a no deal state of affairs. For this is able to set at zero the tariff degree on all imported wine – decreasing the value of imports from, as an example, Australia and New Zealand (with whom the EU has no free commerce settlement) and, more considerably, leaving unchanged the present buying and selling regime with EU member states like France, Italy and Spain.

However it isn’t because of this that several retail merchants have been filling their obtainable storage with pallets of wine in the rely right down to 29 March 29. Here two moderately totally different fears come into play. The first is the pervasive nervousness, hardly confined to the drinks enterprise, about border disruption in the weeks and months following a cliff edge no deal Brexit (in March or subsequently).

Brokers, merchants and, above all, retailers (sometimes reliant on inventory liquidity) merely do not know – and thus can’t afford to take risks with – the extent of possible disruption to provide chains and distribution networks that no deal Brexit would trigger. What is obvious is that the present fluidity of border crossings is at potential danger (particularly, though on no account solely, at Dover).

Consequently, if one has the spare warehousing to take action it is sensible to hedge towards the danger of anticipated disruption by means of pre-purchasing and stockpiling. That is what many have accomplished. There’s a nice deal extra retail wine sat in the UK’s ‘in bond’ storage amenities than there was at this point final yr.

An extra think about that is the potential paperwork mountain that Brexit – deal or no deal – may produce for wines imported from the EU into the UK. Again, there’s as but no readability on the point from the UK authorities – despite strain from the WSTA. But the worry is that each one imports from the EU will have to be accompanied, after Britain leaves, by a dreaded VI-1 customs declaration type (‘dreaded’ simply because it’s time-consuming and labour-intensive to finish). Each anxieties are official – although, considerably sarcastically, there isn’t any requirement in worldwide trade regulation for Britain to insist on VI-1s for imports from the EU after Brexit – the ‘red tape’ is, on this instance no less than, discretionary.

That, you may assume, is dangerous enough. However it is just now we come to the actually vital elements. Chief amongst these, and prime of the record of anxieties for everyone I spoke to in the London fine wine commerce (quite predictably), is the change price – and, notably, the trade fee danger related to Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. Put simply, at the moment £1 buys €1.17 on worldwide exchanges.

In a no deal Brexit state of affairs, the pound is predicted to fall, perhaps to as low as parity with the euro. That might characterize a 17% loss, pretty much overnight, in purchasing capability. And that, in and of itself, is a reasonably good rationale for pre-purchasing and stockpiling at an change fee of €1.17 or thereabouts.

Or so it might sound. However there’s a direct drawback. While a no deal Brexit state of affairs would, in fact, produce a run on sterling, anything aside from a no deal state of affairs would lead sterling to strengthen, growing the efficient purchasing power of UK brokers and retailers. And it will achieve this in the speedy run up to the Bordeaux 2018 en primeur campaign – precisely the time in the yr at which they are most uncovered to change fee danger.

Herein lies the dilemma. Does one hedge towards the change price danger of a no deal Brexit – pre-purchasing euros and opening credit strains in euros at a hard and fast change fee as we speak; or does one wait and hope that no deal is prevented at the last minute? Totally different elements of the UK fine wine commerce have resolved that dilemma in another way, but they’ve all been asking themselves the similar query.

How they have positioned themselves is determined by a few elements. Those whose business models are based mostly on the retention of huge allocations of Bordeaux futures from one campaign to the next have, sometimes and maybe understandably, tended to hedge towards the change fee danger of Brexit, committing themselves in the course of to an effective market position on the 2018 vintage.

From their perspective, they can’t afford the danger of getting to purchase their Bordeaux futures at a euro-sterling trade fee of parity or worse. Yet for many who are more flexibly placed vis-à-vis Bordeaux futures, prepared in effect to move solely on the 2018 marketing campaign if the worth in sterling is just not proper, there isn’t any have to hedge towards an unsure danger. As an alternative, they cross their fingers and hope for the change price premium of a deal or an extended delay in the Brexit negotiations. Only time tell who has received this right.

There’s nothing much in the previous paragraphs that comes as an ideal surprise to somebody who works on the political financial system of the fine wine market and the political financial system of Brexit. The UK fine wine commerce is well-informed about the dangers of Brexit (with or and not using a deal) and has put in place understandable, if considerably divergent, contingency planning on the foundation of that danger evaluation. However this is not to say that I was not stunned by a minimum of a few of the responses of my interviewees. Two elements that I had merely not anticipated got here out of our conversations. Both, I feel, are fascinating and every has necessary implications for the way forward for London’s place in the international fine wine market.


The Japan Effect

The first of those stunned me the most and has, maybe, the biggest potential implications. It is, unusual though it might sound, the Japanese market.

The EU has simply concluded a new commerce deal (the Economic Partnership Settlement) with Japan. This came into impact on the 1 February 2019. Certainly one of its penalties is to remove the tariff on imports of European wine into Japan, which beforehand stood at 15%. This poses an enormous and quick drawback for London-based intermediaries in the international fine wine market.

For EU-produced wine saved underneath bond in the UK will, successfully, grow to be 15% costlier in the Japanese market in comparison to that saved in the EU the second the UK leaves (with or and not using a deal). The identical would, in fact, be true for another third country with whom the EU signs a new commerce deal from the moment of Brexit onwards.

The implications are probably profound. First, they scale back the effective measurement and significance of the UK as a world intermediary in the international fine wine market – decreasing the relative share of the world market more likely to cross via London.

And, secondly, they increase the fascinating prospect of UK-based brokers and merchants making far higher use in the way forward for in bond storage within the EU – primarily, in France. This may change considerably the construction of the worldwide market and probably the place of UK brokers and merchants inside it (a factor solely strengthened by the higher volatility of sterling as a foreign money on international exchanges after Brexit).

The second issue, though fairly totally different and arguably less profound in its potential implications, can also be vital. It poses a serious potential logistical headache for the UK fine wine commerce. It is the anticipated want, post-Brexit, for UK slip labels on all wines exported from the EU to the UK.

At current, for so long as a wine produced in an EU member state stays in the EU there isn’t a need for a country-specific slip label. In impact, EU regulation makes the producer whose identify seems on the label legally answerable for its contents, throughout the union. However at the second either the good or the UK leaves the EU this modifications.

At this point, in worldwide trade regulation, the purchaser of the good (on this case a UK-based wine dealer or merchant) becomes legally answerable for its contents. The purpose is that the passing of this legal responsibility necessitates a UK slip label being positioned on every and every bottle of wine that enters the UK – in all probability even earlier than it arrives in a bonded warehouse.

Brexit, as the above paragraphs by now make clear, will probably be challenging for the UK fine wine trade in the brief, medium and, indeed, the long-term. As the consequences of Brexit turn out to be clearer it should adapt and evolve and it will need to adapt and evolve.

There are clearly nice opportunities for these first to adapt, as long as they get it right. But there are also great risks for those sluggish to adapt or who get issues incorrect – the stakes are very high certainly.

In 10 years time, the international market for fine wine will undoubtedlty look very totally different than it does at the moment and London might play a quite totally different position within it. Brexit will undoubtedly be a key think about that transformation.


Colin Hay is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris the place he works on the political financial system of Europe, La Place de Bordeaux and wine markets extra usually

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