Brexit could make Prosecco pricier for British buyers, Italian winemakers warn

If Britain leaves the EU on March 29th with a so-called hard Brexit, many supporters will likely be celebrating with Union Jack flags and countless bottles of Prosecco. But worried winemakers in Italy fear potential new trade tariffs would put a huge dent in a market which sees a whopping 120 million bottles of Prosecco exported to the UK each year.

Brexit could make Prosecco pricier for British buyers, Italian winemakers warn
The UK is Italy's biggest export market for Prosecco. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

“There could be price rises,” said Mattia Mattiuzzo, vice-president of regional farmers' union Coldiretti. “Without a deal it will perhaps be difficult to find a placement for the product.”

READ ALSO: The ultimate no-deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Italy

The UK is the Italian fizz's top market. Brits guzzle down 35 percent of exports of the sparkling white wine, made in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy with the DOC label, as well as the superior DOCG category.

But as it becomes increasingly clear that British Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal deal will not pass, the odds of a no-deal hard Brexit appear greater, along with all the trade uncertainty that would bring.

“It could create discontent among English consumers, as it could create economic difficulties for us to reach the English market,” said Mattiuzzo, while gently pruning his family's snaking, dark vines in preparation for this year's grapes.

Prosecco vineyards in Veneto. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

In 2016, then British foreign minister Boris Johnson caused a diplomatic spat with Italy after apparently suggesting it should back his version of a Brexit deal or face losing Prosecco sales. The threat was rebuffed by Italy's then economic development minister, Carlo Calenda, who said Britain could then miss out on “fish and chips” exports to the other 27 EU countries.

Italian producers say importers have been stockpiling Prosecco in the UK and in Ireland, where there may be a “backstop” entrance for their wine, amid fears of increased import duties and long queues of trucks at the UK border.

READ ALSO: How to future-proof your life in Italy post-Brexit

“This situation of uncertainty worries us, (but) we're confident that English citizens won't give up this pleasure,” said Innocente Nardi, head of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco consortium, standing among dramatic, vine-draped hillsides.

“The main producers are in talks with English importers to set up import places in Ireland for instance, or English-registered companies which can easily import wine,” said Nardi. “In the worst-case scenario, they should still be able to import,” he said in the dwindling grey of the northern Italian twilight.

And if UK-bound exports falter for whatever reason, there are always other markets, said Nardi. “At the moment we're expanding and being appreciated in a significant way in the United States, which is an enormous market in which we're investing, and Canada and Russia,” he said.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The wine is named after the nearby village of Prosecco, a Slovene word meaning 'path cut through the woods'. The grapes used to make the wine were also called Prosecco until growers had the name changed to Glera in 2009, so that they could protect their increasingly popular brand as a geographical location.

Although many winemakers are worried, some believe Prosecco sales can withstand Brexit — whatever the outcome.

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit: Which EU member state is being the most generous to Britons?

“I'm very optimistic, I think little will change, because now the world is globalized,” said winemaker Angelo Facchin, surrounded by the vast silver tanks where the wine is fermented in San Polo di Piave.

“Prosecco is now part of English culture. As a result, it will be difficult for them to give up our Prosecco,” smiled Facchin, whose family has made wine since 1870. The wine is “not very alcoholic, or expensive, can be drunk at any occasion and be a replacement for beer,” Facchin added.

Inside Facchin's cellars in Veneto. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Britain now accounts for 40 percent of Facchin's turnover, having expanded by 15 to 20 percent each of the last five years. His wine is drunk at St John's College, Cambridge University, he proudly says.

While some are optimistic, Stefano Zanette, head of the Prosecco DOC consortium, said a hard Brexit would be a “leap into the unknown”. While not wanting to get involved in British politics, Zanette said he supported the idea of a second referendum in the UK on its relationship with the EU.

“Most people didn't realise the consequences of their choice,” he said.

READ ALSO: Made-in-Britain mozzarella on the rise as Brexit looms

Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

By AFP's Charles Onians and Céline Cornu

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Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

With ongoing uncertainty over whether UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in Italy beyond the end of this year, British residents are asking where they stand.

Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

Many of The Local’s British readers have been in touch recently to ask whether any progress has been made in negotiations between the UK and Italy on a reciprocal agreement on the use of driving licences.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the background of this Brexit consequence.

READ ALSO: Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

When Britain left the EU there was no reciprocal agreement in place, but UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences. This period was later extended to the current deadline of December 31st, 2022.

The situation beyond that date however remains unclear, and concern is growing among the sizeable number of British nationals living in Italy who say no longer being allowed to drive would be a serious problem.

There was the option of exchanging licences before the end of 2021, but many didn’t make the deadline. As has been proven before, this was often not due to slackness but rather all manner of circumstances, from having moved to Italy after or shortly before the cut-off date to bureaucratic delays.

Driving licences: How does the situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

So is an agreement any closer? Or do those driving in Italy on a UK licence really need to go to the considerable trouble and expense of sitting an Italian driving test (in Italian)?

With five months left to go, there’s still no indication as to whether a decision will be made either way.

The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test – while also stressing that they’re working hard on reaching a deal, which would make taking the test unnecessary.

This message has not changed.

On Wednesday, July 27th, British Ambassador to Italy Ed Llewellyn tweeted after a meeting with Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini: “The British and Italian governments continue to work towards an agreement on exchange of driving licences.”

But the ambassador earlier this month advised UK nationals “not to wait” and to “take action now by applying for an Italian licence”.

In an official newsletter published in mid-July, Llewellyn acknowledged the concerns of British residents and confirmed that negotiations are still going on.

“I know that many of you are understandably concerned about whether your UK driving licence will continue to be recognised in Italy, especially when the extension granted by Italy until 31 December 2022 for such recognition expires.

“Let me set out where things stand. The British Government is working to reach an agreement with Italy on the right to exchange a licence without the need for a test. 

READ ALSO:  Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

“The discussions with our Italian colleagues are continuing and our objective is to try to reach an agreement in good time before the end of the year.

“We hope it will be possible to reach an agreement – that is our objective and we are working hard to try to deliver it. 

Nevertheless, he said, “our advice is not to wait to exchange your licence.”

“If you need to drive in Italy, you can take action now by applying for an Italian licence. This will, however, involve taking a practical and theory test.” 

He acknowledged that “the process is not a straightforward one and that there are delays in some areas to book an appointment for a test”.

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

“We will continue to work towards an agreement,” he wrote. “That is our objective and it is an objective we share with our Italian colleagues.“

The British Embassy in Rome had not responded to The Local’s requests for further comment on Friday.

The Local will continue to publish any news on the recognition of British driving licences in Italy. See the latest updates in our Brexit-related news section here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.