World Spirits Alliance: Free trade is ‘DNA of global spirits sector’
Spirits trade groups, backed by brands, have joined forces to tackle global issues affecting the industry. But will the World Spirits Alliance have enough clout to help steer policies that will benefit the sector?
*This feature was originally published in the August 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
Brexit, trade wars, counterfeiting and debilitating taxes are just a few of the problems affecting the global spirits sector.
This is certainly a complex and changeable industry, so last month’s announcement that an international group had been formed to tackle its issues was welcome news.
The World Spirits Alliance (WSA) is a new international trade organisation that comprises spirits companies and trade groups that have come together to give the industry a “global voice”. “During uncertain times for world trade, the launch of the WSA demonstrates the spirits industry’s collective belief in the importance of a rules‐based trading system and our determination to remain an advocate for open markets worldwide,” says Martin Bell, deputy director of trade at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), a member of the WSA.
The WSA will be a representative partner and interlocutor for the industry in front of international organisations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Health Organization and United Nations.
Topics of interest for the WSA include the elimination of tariffs, non‐tariff barriers, and discriminatory taxes; fair, transparent and evidence‐based regulation; “adequate” excise tax structures; “proportionate” evidence‐based public health measures for distilled spirits; and “ambitious” strategies to combat illicit alcohol. The WSA comprises a number of trade groups, including: Spirits Europe, Asia Pacific International Wines and Spirits Alliance, Camara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera, the SWA, Association of Canadian Distillers, International Spirits and Wines Association of India, Japanese Spirits Liquor Makers Association, Distilled Spirits Council of the US, Spirits and Cocktail Australia and Spirits New Zealand.
Leading spirits companies have also added their names to the project, including: Pernod Ricard, Diageo, Brown‐Forman, Rémy Cointreau, Beam Suntory, Campari and Edrington. “To have a global body representing the interests of the spirits sector at an international level is vital as we navigate critical public policy issues,” Aoife Clarke, Beam Suntory’s senior director, public affairs – international, insists.
“Being around the table with our peers and working together to address issues of common concern underscores the importance and the effectiveness of collective action.”
At the time of the announcement, Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council, said: “We want to demonstrate to national authorities that we are committed to responsibility and that advancing fair treatment of spirits products in the marketplace will have a positive impact on their economies.”
Taking up the mantle as WSA president is Rodolfo González González, president of Tequila trade body Camara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera, while Spirit Europe’s Marie Audren has been named secretary general. The WSA will be based at Spirits Europe’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Audren says the creation of the WSA was “not out of the blue”, and was formed following decades of collaborative working, with the decision to create the group being made last year.
“We thought it was important to take that more formal step by creating an international organisation,” explains Audren. “We worked through a process of putting ideas on the table and exchanging regularly through the year. Because we already had a lot of good connections, everyone agreed that it was the right thing to do. We have a role to play and a voice to be heard in terms of the importance of the spirits industry and its impact on economy, jobs and revenue worldwide.”
While the organisation is very much in its infancy, Audren says decisions will be made through a general assembly, a standard structure for a trade body. The WSA will have one meeting annually, with representation from each member association.
When it comes to the issues the WSA will tackle, Audren says that free trade is “the DNA of the global spirits sector”. She explains: “We’ve always been strong advocates of open and fair trade. It’s very important to look at eliminating tariff barriers and import tariffs. The trade agenda is under pressure right now so we wanted to reaffirm our support but also acknowledge that maybe we can improve what we need from the WTO.”
The SWA’s Bell believes that the WSA is “well‐placed to influence” the modernisation process of the WTO, “particularly around the new plurilateral e‐commerce negotiations”, which will impact the trading environment for a wide range of consumer goods and services, including spirits. The aim of the negotiations is to put in place international rules on global e‐commerce.
Bell also says that it is “vital” that the WSA “remains part of the conversation around the regulation of alcohol” and the promotion of responsible consumption.
Looking to the future, Audren wants the WSA to be as “representative as possible” with a “broad membership” and have the ability to reach a wide range of audiences at an international level.
Audren believes a challenge for the WSA will be “finding the best way to maintain a high level of conversation”. She says: “We need to be able to make some commitments in terms of attending meetings and be the global united voice. We also have to continue to push and demonstrate what we are doing on social responsibility and be mindful of other alcohol sectors.”