The Cost of Brexit on Fine Wine shipping

Despite the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the transportation of wine to and from mainland Europe and the UK was pretty much a straightforward process in 2020. It required a minimum level of regulatory checks and procedures; haulage firms benefited from the EMCS system, an EU customs database that simplified the shipping process for them.

However, come 1st January 2021 and the changes to the UK/EU trade regulations, this straightforward process has been turned on its head. Philip Cox, owner of Romanian winery Cramele Recas, describes the new regulations as “nightmarish” and “potentially unworkable” for small wineries and UK businesses.

“It is fair to say that the new logistics framework has been a challenge for the industry. Even before Brexit, transporting wine was admin heavy. We required roughly 200 pages of documents to move an average shipment between the UK and EU,” explains Ashley Hopkins, Liv-ex director of operations. Adding “Since 1st January 2021 that admin has multiplied. The original 200 pages are still required, but now a similar sized export will require additional documents such as import declarations etc, resulting in around 800 pages.” 

“It’s not just the paperwork that’s the problem. In order to produce these documents you need certain wine expertise, and you also need to include additional parties such as freight forwarders, all of which adds time and costs to the supply chain.” adds Hopkins.

European wine producers, importers and exporters and major transport firms are all attempting to get their head around this new process. The transportation of goods to and from the UK has become much more time consuming, expensive and difficult. A good example of this is from 1st  January 2021, producers have been forced to ship goods in fumigated and treated stamped wooden pallets, which before 1st January 2021 wasn’t a legal requirement. 

In addition, logistics firms must now use ‘Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) Numbers’. EORI numbers are issued by customs to identify traders throughout the EU and are now an essential legal requirement for UK import and exports. Also, under new VAT rules, the tax is now paid in full at the port of entry to the UK before the goods are released. This is a potential issue for smaller businesses.

“The new post-Brexit trading framework has impacted iDealwine in areas that they didn’t see coming. The additional paperwork was expected, but negotiating new rates and new shipping partners were not,” says Alix Rodarie, head of international development at iDealwine.

“New laws and even seeking advice from legal experts was expected, but legal experts unable to clarify or interpret a number of issues relating to importing wine to the UK was not. Customs declarations and duties payable were expected, but the complexity and number of charges for delivering were not.” Rodarie explains that the firm has been forced to build new logistical and legal relationships again from scratch, and then communicate these changes to their existing clients.

“As I’ve said before, it is now easier for me to sell to Japan than the UK,” adds Philip Cox. “Apart from the expense and time wasting inherent to carrying out a full customs declaration, I now have to include an importer’s label on every bottle, detailing their address, etc. I exported 4 million bottles to the UK in 2019 across 12 different brands. So I would have to produce 12 different versions of the label for each wine. Unfortunately, I’ve ceased exporting to my smaller customers. The new administration costs mean that shipping small volumes is not worth my while. The real victim has been the British consumer.”

With supply chain overheads increasing, producers and importers alike must now weigh up how much of this strain can be willingly shared between the key parties, or if UK consumers should be forced to shoulder the burden of the rising prices.

Some experts are optimistic that the end consumer will not suffer unduly. But equally, there is an opinion across the board that smaller brands may now find exporting prohibitively expensive, leading to fewer niche labels on our shelves.

“Our shipping charges have been altered. We used to be charged per case, which meant that we could ship tiny parcels from some growers. We are now charged per pallet and have a sliding economy of scale – this puts our smallest suppliers at a real disadvantage,” says Siobhán Astbury, buying director at Haynes Hanson & Clark.

“There are certainly some wines that have had to go up by a few pounds per case, but for the moment nothing extreme. We’re getting a slightly better exchange rate now than we were at the end of last year, which also helps cancel things out. But it’s still very early days.”

As with Covid-19, uncertainty surrounds the transition into new trading relationships. At the moment, UK customs are overlooking certain checks on goods to ease companies through the transition period. However, when this gentle approach finishes, its forecast that companies should expect long and costly delays at UK customs and excise. 

Both European and UK businesses are also arguing against the introduction of wine import certificates. This new piece of legislation was written into the Brexit deal to replace the VI-1 forms, which the EU currently use to regulate the import of non-European wines.

“As an industry we are used to VI-1 forms for wines originating outside of Europe and this will remain business as usual (albeit a UK version). One of the sections on the new import certificate form requires a customs stamp, which is likely to add an additional 200 pages and 200 stamps – it’s all getting a bit daft,” says Ashley Hopkins, Liv-ex director of operations. In late March, the government delayed the introduction of the wine import certificates until 1st January 2022. Nevertheless, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale, who has been heavily involved in lobbying the government to remove the regulation from UK law has stated that the threat of an eventual implementation of the forms is still “very real.” It remains to be seen whether they will listen to the argument against this extra step or not.

EU Goods Sub Committee report reveals ‘substantial barriers’ since Brexit for UK trade with Europe

A report by the House of Lords’ EU Goods Sub-Committee has warned small firms are “feeling the squeeze” since the Brexit deal with Brussels came into force in January and there remains “substantial barriers” for UK trade with Europe and small businesses bearing the brunt post Brexit.

The committee is calling on ministers to establish a trusted trader scheme to tackle the amount of paperwork that businesses have to complete, whilst also helping with the increased cost of transporting goods and giving firms time to understand the VAT changes when exporting to the EU.

In the Beyond Brexit: Trade in Goods report, it said there “remains substantial barriers to trade with the EU” following the implementation of the fresh trading terms.

It also warned that, without appropriate action, the physical checks currently in situ on plant and animal produce could become a “permanent barrier to trade”, with meat and live shellfish produce worst hit by the new inspection regime.

The committee’s chairwoman Baroness Verma, said:

“The Brexit trade deal struck with the EU may have prevented the nightmare of a ‘no deal’ exit for the UK, but a lot of unfinished business remains between the two sides. Businesses, particularly SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), are feeling the squeeze of the non-tariff barriers resulting from the end of the transition period.

The government must take an ambitious approach to trade ties with the EU. Swift action and further funding is needed to minimise future disruption.

Ongoing dialogue will be crucial to achieving smoother trade. The TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) should be treated as the start, not the end of the UK’s new relationship with the EU.”

The report stated a series of recommendations for clarifying the requirements on exporters.

It stated that “On customs, we recommend a trusted trader scheme to enable more businesses – especially smaller businesses – to benefit from simplified customs procedures,”

The “complicated and varied VAT rules in different EU jurisdictions” were described as “among the most problematic non-tariff barriers to trade”, with the committee asking for “advice and support to increase understanding among traders of new VAT implications”. This is following the government’s decision to delay the release of its own programme.

On rules of origin stipulations, the committee said: “Only goods originating – or mostly originating – in the UK or EU will qualify for zero tariffs. The requirements will hit smaller businesses hardest but clarifications and mitigations, particularly on the re-export of non-processed goods, are urgently needed for all.”

Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said:

“At a moment when small firms are up against it like never before, those that trade internationally – often our most innovative and profitable businesses – are being hit with reams and reams of new paperwork. They simply don’t have the time or money to manage it.

Unless we ease the admin burden being placed on our small importers and exporters it’s going to weigh heavy on our efforts to get the economy firing on all cylinders again.”

Border controls that affect imports & exports post Brexit

Since formally leaving the EU on 31 December 2020, the UK and the EU have been operating under a new trade agreement. In this agreement, goods traded in between the UK and the EU shall not be subject to any tariffs or quotas on all goods that comply with the appropriate rules of origin. However, Customs formalities will be required by both parties in customs areas, and VAT and certain other duties shall apply upon import.


Let’s look at the different stages of import and export processes and how they are being affected, with a focus on Spanish exporters.

Exporting from Spain

Spanish exporters benefit from the fact that intracommunity operations are very simple with regards to VAT. Previously duty registered in the ROI Register by Spanish exporters, needed to have an EU VAT Number and to be registered in the VIES (VAT Information Exchange Service). If both importers and exporters have an EU VAT Number, exporters will issue a VAT Free invoice to the buyer. This rule changes if one of the parties does not have the EU Vat Number.

In contrast, extra community operations are subject to a number of additional formalities, such as obtaining the EORI Number and issuing a number of documents (depending on the commodity to be exported). From the Spanish perspective, and although export invoices are VAT exempted, the main issue is that the goods will have to be cleared at customs before entering the UK and therefore face customs formalities.

Brexit changes in customs policy

The main impact of Brexit for the UK with regards to imports and exports is that it is now regarded as a third party, thus triggering the need to process imports through customs. EU Regulation 952/2013 of the European Parliament is no longer applicable in the UK.

In order to try to minimise the impact on the UK’s economy, the UK Government decided to implement border controls in January and again in April and June 2021. Hence, from 1 January 2021, standard goods arriving in the UK require a EIDR (Entry in Declarant’s Record) as part of the simplified customs declaration process is made. Importers are allowed a six month period to carry out customs declarations, and checks are only carried out on controlled goods such as toxic chemicals and excise goods like alcohol or tobacco, high-risk live animals, and plants.

The initial plan was to implement an intermediate step on 1 April and proceed to full implementation on 1 July, when full safety and security declarations would have been compulsory. However, pursuant to a written statement made on 11 March, the UK Government has decided to postpone both the planned intermediate step on 1 April, and the full implementation scheduled for 1 July. The next significant date in the calendar is now 1 October 2021, from when additional requirements will be necessary, especially for those trading goods subject to sanitary controls, such as products of animal origin, fishery products and live bivalve molluscs, high-risk food and feed not of animal origin, and plants and plant products. Export Health Certificate requirements for products of animal origin and certain animal by-products will come into force at the same time. The UK Government has taken the view that, although most businesses – and the UK’s workforce and infrastructure – would have been ready for the so-called Stage 2 on 1 April, some others needed more time to prepare. 1 January 2022 will bring additional requirements, with a view to setting March 2022 as the date when checks at Border Control Posts will take place on live animals and low risk plants and plant products.

How Brexit is affecting Spanish exporters?

The UK has traditionally been a stronger market for Spanish exporters than Spain has been for UK exporters. Between 2015 and 2019 an average of over 19 billion euros of exports from Spain to the UK took place, in comparison to 11.5 billion euros of UK goods imported into Spain.

All flow of goods between Spain and the UK  from January 2021 ceased to be considered intracommunity transactions and became subject to customs formalities (except for exports of goods to Northern Ireland, which will continue to be declared in the Intrastat system).

Although UK importers are most likely to be affected by the customs regulations, Spanish exporters are also facing related challenges due to Brexit. Customs invoices now must be issued, and goods have to be properly identified with their tariff code to avoid delays. Interestingly to note, the CE marking is no longer mandatory for products sold to UK customers.

Since EU legislation requires that all goods brought out of the EU customs territory be risk assessed and subjected to customs controls before departure, an exit summary declaration (EXS) also needs to be submitted.

How is Brexit affecting UK importers?

Post Brexit, there has been no changes to the general substantive safety requirements required for products to be sold in the UK, with regards to the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR). Neither has there been any change to sector-specific product regulations. The UK Government has expressed a desire to remain closely aligned with EU product safety standards in order to facilitate trade, but the future position remains uncertain. Northern Ireland remains subject to a slightly different regulatory regime and further changes may happen in the future.

Despite product safety requirements remaining the same, there have been two key changes for importing products to the UK:

  • the UK is now a separate market to the EU and it will have an impact on who is considered responsible for the safety of products placed into the UK market.
  • the UK is no longer apart of the EU CE-marking regime, or the Safety Gate/RAPEX regime for sharing defective product information and facilitating recalls.

Product safety responsibility

Schedule 9 of the Product Safety and Metrology Regulations 2019 came into force at the end of 2020 and made several amendments to the GPSR. One of the main effects of these amendments is that the ‘producer’ (to whom the primary product safety obligations attach) may change.

Essentially, the manufacturer of a product will retain the ultimate responsibility for the conformity of the product to the relevant product safety regime, provided that the manufacturer or its representative is established in the UK market. If the manufacturer (or representative) is not established in the UK market, then the importer of the product to the UK will be considered the “producer” of the product, and will assume the responsibility.

Producers must comply with the GPSR and any other relevant product-specific regime and take reasonable steps to ensure that the product is safe to use and minimise risks associated with the product, such as providing labelling and warnings where appropriate and ensuring effective traceability and reporting.

The practical impact on UK importers is that in the absence of the product manufacturer being established in the UK market, the importer will now be considered a producer, and will assume liability for the safety of the product. This exposes many previously unaffected importers to potential defective product claims and places a greater regulatory burden on importers to ensure product safety compliance.

Labelling and reporting

The UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) will no longer be part of the EU CE marking regime for indicating conformity with product safety regimes. From 1 January 2021 the UK requires products being placed on the UK market to bear the UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) mark.

Currently, the technical requirements and the conformity assessment processes and standards used to demonstrate conformity for UKCA purposes remain largely the same as those supporting the EU regime for CE marking. The UK Government may diverge from this position in the future, but currently any product bearing a CE mark should be able to bear a UKCA mark.

In most cases, a transitional period applies so that the UKCA mark will not need to be applied to any products marketed in the UK before 1 January 2022, and products labelled with the CE mark will be considered to have conformed with the updated UK regime. But, in some cases the UKCA mark is already required to be applied to goods placed on the UK market (since 1 January 2021). This requirement does not apply to existing fully manufactured stock, but from 1 January 2023 the UKCA marking must be permanently attached to the product, as opposed to being printed on packaging or applied in any other temporary manner.

Additionally, as of 1 January 2021, the UK is no longer part of the EU RAPEX product safety regime for identifying and sharing product information on defective products and coordinating product recalls. The UK Government intends to set up a similar regime, but until it does, importers do not need to have regard to RAPEX alerts relating to products for sale on the UK market. It may however be sensible to pay attention still if a product is subject to a product recall in the EU, in order to protect importers from potential product liability claims as discussed above.

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