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Prices, excices and taxes
Several of you have noticed how the prices of wine and spirits have risen over the last year in Belgium. Last November, just after we had printed our annual wine guide and guaranteed our prices to you, the Belgian government, without notice, decided to raise excise taxes in order to tackle the rising national debt.
In one fair swoop, The excise duties on a bottle of spirits have risen by 41% while a bottle of wine has increased by 31%.AsAlexandre Ricard in a recent interview for Le Soir explained, apart from gin, which continues its trendy growth, all other spirits have declined in sales from 10% to 25% since the government increased these duties. No wonder when the extra tax adds ?1.50 to a bottle of wine and as much as ?11 to a bottle of whiskey. If this was meant to be a money generating exercise, it has failed miserably. The goal of 233 million euros revenue is ridiculous: after three months, the government had garnered only a few million.
What is most worrying about the trend to tax wine and spirits more heavily is the pseudo caring issue that this is all about the health of the Belgian people. It is not by increasing the price of a bottle of Cava or a bottle of whiskey that we are going to tackle binge or underage drinking; what works is education, communication, being responsible, not drinking and driving. Saying that by increasing taxes, the government is tackling alcohol related problems is just hypocritical.
One of the biggest problems that the government faces with wine and spirits is the fact that a large percentage of the population lives within 50 kilometers of a border with another country. We all know how much cheaper wine, beer and spirits are in Luxembourg. I know many of you who have driven down to Champagne to stock up on wedding bubbly rather than pay the two euro excise charge levied per bottle. If any of you have ever shopped at Auchan in Roncq just over the French border, you might of noticed all the Belgian number plates in the parking lot as Belgians load up their cars with cheaper booze during the weekend. Four out of ten Belgians now prefer to buy their wine and spirits abroad. Our poor little country is being taxed out of proportion with our neighbours. I think this is especially tough because I cherish the way Belgian drinkers appreciate fine wine and spirits; I have rarely seen such knowledge and appreciation from the general public. Is it any wonder that while sales have plummeted by 14 percent, theft of alcoholic products has risen 11 percent?
Apart from the drop in sales of wines and spirits as a result of these taxes, our industry is also suffering on a local basis. One of the other pleasures I have witnessed over the last 15 years or so in Belgium, is the rise of home made spirits and the booming domestic wine industry. Many of these businesses are small family affairs or artisanal start-ups (34 percent of spirits consumed in Belgium are produced by local small businesses). The government is stifling this.
Now, somewhat late, the Federation of Wines and Spirits is fighting back with a campaign called, rather unpoetically, “Cancel Unfair Wine & Spirit Tax”. They argue that the new taxes are causing more harm than good to our Belgian society. Over the last few years, I have become an avid signer of on line petitions and I have seen them work especially in the fields of human rights. So would you help the 36,000 people who work directly and indirectly in the wine and spirits sector and call the government to suspend this new tax?
The link for the website is: http://cancelunfairwinespirittax.be Many thanks.
© Fiona Morrison M.W.