Brexit paperwork sours Belgian beer exports to UK

Any Belgian beer producers are waking up to a haven after brexit when it becomes more difficult to sell their brews to thirsty British consumers on the canal, and prices are rising.

Rotsaert, a wholesaler of some of the most renowned Trappist beers in her region, shipped the last shipment on 29 December to the UK just two days before Britain left the EU Single Market.

Now Filip Rotsaert, who manages the business with his partner, says that AFP had to interrupt shipping to the UK temporarily.

London and Brussels signed a trade deal on 24 December to avert disruptive sweeping tariffs – but the latter agreement didn't give Bruges and transport firms adequate time to prepare for the changes.

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

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

- Tax raises rates -

After Belgium itself, Britain is the second largest market in Europe for the business that sends its beverages.

But even though the paperwork is finalized, consumers in the UK are now faced with an enticing disappointment when exports commence again because Britain is due to slap VAT by 20% in addition to a current production levy of 17.5% on orders above 150 euros.

This means that 18 flasks of Deus beer top-end increases from EUR 234 to EUR 320 with the latest additional costs, according to Rotsaert after integrating the figures into its 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 said.

For now, though, he is not too worried about the January loss of revenue.

He demands that Britons be packed in November and December enough to sample their favorite Belgian beers during the holiday season.

- 'A comrade and ally' -

Brexit also raises new challenges for the BeerSelect brewery in the northern city of Ghent.

The business collaborates with hundreds of small beermakers, some of them from the UK, to assist with specialty brews.

It focuses on real beers without extra additives that can be ready in large tanks up to 8 weeks in contrast to other brands for only three weeks.

Creator Miel Bonduelle says that everyone is also trying to decide just what Brexit would be like in the long run, although he does not expect his existing UK 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 says to AFP.

"We don't think we're going to lose our current customers, but the talks with some of our customers take longer so they don't know if it's worth brewing in Belgium anymore.

One viable option for small and medium-sized business owners who want to deal with any Brexit hit might be to pursue new opportunities elsewhere.

But it would be hard to cover for any loses on the massive beer-swilling British market across the Sea.

"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," said Matthias Diependaele, Finance Minister of the Flemish Regional Government.

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