A successful British importer of French wines says extra Brexit-related costs of around £150,000 a year have forced him to move to France to set up a new branch of his firm here.
Daniel Lambert, of Daniel Lambert Wines, whose father is French, has moved with his wife and two children from Wales to live near Montpellier after facing frustration over additional paperwork linked to the end of the Brexit transition period.
He has created a French company which will supply wines to his UK branch, cutting out customs brokers’ fees, which he says can be as much as £350 per pallet.
He said: “The extra costs were a combination of brokers’ fees, extra staffing and hours lost.
“The paperwork needs to specify commodity codes that are region and colour-specific. It took our team about three weeks to find out what they all are and get our system pre-programmed with them all, which was pretty soul-destroying.
“There are 136 at the moment, and it’s likely to double when organic wines kick in, and could increase eight-fold if the UK goes to different tax band rates, which it is looking at.”
Issues only after Brexit
None of this was an issue pre-Brexit as bringing French wine over was merely a ‘movement’ of products, not an import. “The aim of the new Sarl [French company] – which is imaginatively called Daniel Lambert Wines France – is to deal with all the import and export admin ourselves, to mitigate costs, but then also potentially to offer the same kind of service as we have in the UK, supplying retailers.
“It’s also a lifestyle change, to be living in the south of France, which is preferable.”
He added: “The initial Brexit impact was catastrophic for alcohol because the sector had the full impact from day one.
“It was immensely stressful and time-consuming. It is as if the government is trying to stop small businesses from being able to import. You can’t put all these barriers to trade in place without having understood the consequences.”
Helped having French nationality
He said setting up has not been easy, but is “going to plan” and the process was smoothed by him having French nationality so he did not require a visa.
Business France, a French government service aimed at helping French firms develop internationally and foreign firms to set up here, had been “very good”, he said. “They are helping with relocation and setting up.”
He has five staff in the UK and hopes to build a similar or larger team in France.
“We’re one of the best UK wine importers, so with the expertise we’ve gained over 30 years, there’s no reason we can’t use that to home in on French, Belgian and Dutch markets too.
“We could be supplying French wines to retailers in other EU countries, for example, or moving Loire wine to the Languedoc, etc.”
He said he is confident about dealing with the paperwork. “It’s free to do, once you understand it and have systems in place.
“The brokers’ fees are daylight robbery but that’s what the UK government has done: UK firms are facing these costs just for meaningless paperwork.
“It’s very sad but the brokers are doing very well out of it.”