The Scottish Government has defended its plan to bring in minimum unit pricing on alcohol after five European wine-producing countries warned it could decimate trade.
In legal opinions lodged with the European Commission and obtained by the BBC today, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria strongly voiced concerns over the proposal.
Portugal claimed that minimum pricing would have a “dramatic impact” on its export market to the UK “causing grave consequences to Portuguese companies and the sector in general”, while France described the UK as its biggest market for wine, accounting for 17% of French wine exports worth 1.2bn euros annually. It cautioned that the “risk of distortion” from the Scottish bill meant the sector “could suffer losses”.
Bulgaria also warned the policy would “create many obstacles to trade for Bulgarian wine and spirit producers”; Spain agreed that the measure “may be detrimental to the marketing of imported products”; and Italy declared that fixing a minimum price “would be inequitable and discriminatory”.
“The only judgement in law on minimum unit pricing of alcohol, as proposed by the Scottish Government, found comprehensively in favour of the policy”
Alex Neil, Scottish health secretary
However the Scottish government said the plans were “perfectly legal”. Health secretary Alex Neil described the measure as the “most effective way” to address the availability of high-strength, low-cost alcohol and claimed it would save lives and reduce alcohol-related harm.
“The only judgement in law on minimum unit pricing of alcohol, as proposed by the Scottish Government, found comprehensively in favour of the policy,” Neil said.
“The Court of Session recognised the overwhelming evidence that minimum unit pricing will reduce alcohol consumption, with a particular impact on hazardous and harmful drinkers who experience so much of the alcohol-related harm we see in Scotland.”
The BBC obtained the legal opinions after a request under open government rules, along with comments from seven other EU member states. It said Italy refused permission for its opinion to be made public but the BBC acquired it from another source.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012, passed in June 2012, will pave the way for the introduction of a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit. The EC has been notified of a draft order setting a minimum price of 50p.
The news comes a week after the UK government ditched plans for minimum pricing in England and Wales.