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Brexit Paperwork Sours Belgian Beer Exports to UK

Some suppliers of Belgian beers are waking up to a post-Brexit hangover as exporting their brews to thirsty British drinkers across the Channel becomes more difficult and prices go up.

BRUSSELS (AFP) — Some suppliers of Belgian beers are waking up to a post-Brexit hangover as exporting their brews to thirsty British drinkers across the Channel becomes more difficult and prices go up. 

Rotsaert, a wholesaler stocking some of its country's most famous Trappist beers, sent off its last consignment to the U.K. on 29 December just two days before Britain left the EU's single market.

Now Filip Rotsaert, who runs the firm with his brother, tells AFP that they have had to temporarily halt shipments to the U.K. 

London and Brussels struck a trade deal on December 24 to stave off the damaging imposition of sweeping tariffs — but the last-gasp agreement still didn't give the Bruges-based firm and the transporters it relies on enough time to prepare for the changes. 

"The shipping companies we work with are not ready with the paperwork to ship to the U.K.," Rotsaert explains.  

"We are working on it, and hopefully we can be ready at the end of January, beginning of February."

Tax tops up prices

After Belgium itself, the U.K. is the second-biggest market for the company that sends out its drinks across the whole of Europe. 

But even when the paperwork is solved, clients in Britain now face an unpleasant surprise when deliveries restart as the U.K. is set to slap on VAT of 20% on top of a new export tax of 17.5% for orders over 150 euros. 

That means a case of 18 bottles of top-end Deus beer will go up from 234 to 320 euros with the new added charges, Rotsaert estimates after tapping the figures into his calculator. 

"For the export market, it will be complicated, yes, but there is no other way out so if they want to drink Belgian beer, I think they have to pay this," he says. 

For now though he is not too concerned about the lack of sales for the whole of January. 

He insists Britons stocked up sufficiently in November and December to be able to toast the holiday season with their favorite Belgian beers. 

'An ally and friend'

For the BeerSelect brewery, in the northern region of Ghent, Brexit is also posing some new challenges. 

The company works with hundreds of independent beer makers, including some from the UK, to help them produce their niche brews. 

It focuses on natural beers with no added chemicals that can take up to eight weeks in huge vats to be ready, compared to just three weeks for other brands. 

Founder Miel Bonduelle says that everyone is still trying to work out exactly what the long-term fallout from Brexit will be, although he does not expect to his current U.K. customers to pack up.

"Due to Brexit we see that it is hard to do some deliveries and see who has to pay which taxes," he tells AFP. 

"We don't think we will lose our existing clients but the negotiations with some clients take longer because they don't know if it's still worth it to brew in Belgium. We'll see in the future."

One potential solution for small and medium business owners looking to make up for any hit from Brexit could be to search for new markets elsewhere. 

But it will be difficult to make up for any losses to the huge market of beer-swilling Brits just across the Channel. 

"It is mostly administrative costs, the logistics, the customs, stuff like that and of course those costs make the price of the products go up. And then you are in a difficult position on competing with British products, so that is the biggest challenge," says Matthias Diependaele, minister for finance in the Flemish regional government.

"We always search for new markets, that is clear. But with the U.K., it still remains an ally, a friend, and an export partner."

by Clotilde GOURLET
© Agence France-Presse

Categories / Business, Entertainment, International

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