Trade challenges Scottish minimum pricing

UK and European drinks trade organisations have announced they are challenging the Scottish government’s minimum unit pricing (MUP) legislation.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), alongside co-petitioners the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) and Comité Vins – on behalf of the European Wine Committee – will take legal action through the Scottish courts, while a complaint has also been made to the European Commission.

The objections, which come after the Scottish government notified the EU of its plans for an MUP of 50 pence, are predicated on the premise that minimum pricing of alcohol would artificially distort trade in the alcoholic drinks market, which would be contrary to EU law.

The SWA has also argued that MUP would be “ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse”, “damaging to the scotch whisky industry” and  would “penalise responsible drinkers and put more pressure on household budgets”

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We agree that Scotland must address the harmful use of alcohol, but policy needs to be targeted on the problem.

“Moderate drinkers are being forced to pay for an un-targeted, misguided and illegal policy. MUP will not tackle the problem of harmful and hazardous drinkers and will damage one of the country’s leading industries.

“Scottish ministers repeatedly claimed during the parliamentary process that as a premium product scotch whisky would not be affected by minimum pricing. The truth is now out. The Scottish Government’s own final impact assessment reveals 85% of blended scotch whisky will be increased in price as a result of an MUP of 50p.”

Jose Ramon Fernandez, secretary general of Comité Vins, said: “We believe the setting of a minimum price contravenes rules governing the wine common market organisation across the EU. It will also act as a discriminatory barrier to trade for imported wines from companies which enjoy a competitive lower cost base, incompatible with EU and international trade law.”

Paul Skehan, director general of CEPS, said: “European law is clear - minimum pricing is an illegal barrier to trade. We agree alcohol misuse must be tackled, but other more effective, more proportionate, less trade restrictive measures are available.”