Gavin Hewitt: “Scottish Government is not allowed to pass any measure in breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations”

THE Scotch Whisky Association is committed to changing cultural attitudes to alcohol in Scotland, but opposes the introduction of price controls through minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcoholic drinks on three grounds.

It will not tackle misuse.

The government’s own figures show there would be no drop in the number of heavy drinkers achieved by its MUP proposals.

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It is illegal and has been ruled as such for 30 years in Europe.

If permitted, it would drive a health justified exemption through international trade rules for the first time ever, leading to spurious “health justified” protectionist measures against Scotch Whisky around the world which would be against the interests of the Scottish economy.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected minimum prices for spirit drinks in 1978, ruling minimum prices were a trade barrier banned under European Treaty rules. Since then it has consistently ruled against minimum-pricing put forward for various products.

Against that background the SWA with the European Spirits Organisation and Comite Vins has raised a petition for judicial review in the Scottish courts. Five EU member states and the EC have raised objections to the Scottish proposals in Europe.

The EC has previously supported the court’s view that minimum prices are capable of a negative effect on imports.

Member states can pursue public health aims, including tackling alcohol harm. However, measures should not restrict the free movement of goods and can only be implemented if they are the “least trade restrictive” within the single market. MUP does not meet this test.

The Scottish Government is not allowed to pass any measure in breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations.

• Gavin Hewitt is chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association.