EU: Portugal Opposes MUP in Wales
Portugal opposes Welsh minimum alcohol price law, doing the dirty work for the alcohol industry.
The Portuguese government has expressed concerns on a “detailed opinion”wines from Portugal would be discriminated against in Wales as consequence of plans to introduce a minimum price of alcohol (MUP). Portugal has warned the plans could have “direct implications” on the free trade rules of the EU market.
The Welsh Government plans to an MUP of 50p per unit. Consequently, a bottle of wine sold in Wales could cost at least £4.69. The new MUP was set to come into effect this summer but has been delayed because of Portugal’s intervention.
The Portuguese government’s economic ministry argues, according to the BBC:
There are Portuguese operators who export wines to Wales whose consumer price is lower than the minimum price, therefore the application of a minimum unit price means that many of these wines will suffer an increase in price, which will make them less competitive in that market.”
It suggests increased taxation on alcohol could be “less restrictive” than MUP since it would still offer sellers “the freedom to determine their selling price.”
MUP saves lives but Portugal keeps blocking the measure
Cheap alcohol is pervasive in Wales, with 72% of the beer sales in Welsh shops and supermarkets consisting of products priced below 50p per unit. Therefore, the Welsh government argues that MUP is a crucial measure to reduce alcohol use and related harms. This could save a life every week and prevent 1,400 hospital admissions a year.
The move to intervene in lives-saving alcohol policy measures is not new.
Portugal was one of five countries that objected to the Scottish Government’s plans for minimum pricing in 2013 – along with France, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. In Scotland’s case the countries argued that MUP breached European free trade law by discriminating against imported alcohol products – saying the policy was illegal, unfair and ineffective. After years of legal argument the UK’s Supreme Court gave the go-ahead in 2017, saying the law did not breach EU regulations. Since implementation of MUP, alcohol sales are declining in Scotland and have fallen to their lowest level in 25 years, according to new government data. In 2018, Scotland was finally able to introduce minimum pricing for all alcoholic drinks, after overcoming numerous of lawsuits of the alcohol industry.
But Portugal questions whether the minimum unit plans are a proportional policy response and calls for more evidence to prove they have “the desired effect for public health in the long term.”
In their objection to the MUP policy in Wales, Portugal uses alcohol industry talking points and language:
Portugal considers the commitment to concerted policies and strategies is imperative, which focus on moderate alcohol consumption and clarify the effects of the excessive consumption of alcohol.
It is thus possible to safeguard the issue of public health and at the same time (comply) with the principle of the free movement of goods.”
We reported previously about Portugal’s intervention
EU countries are allowed to restrict imports on public health grounds but only if it does not constitute a “means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between member states”. As evidence shows, MUP is an effective policy measure to reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.
Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said he anticipates the regulations will come into in force by “early 2020”.