Drinks Ireland urges next PM to help Northern Ireland's distilleries by slashing alcohol duty
Northern Ireland's drinks industry, particularly its growing number of small distilleries, would benefit from a reduction in excise on alcohol sales, an industry group has claimed.
Drinks Ireland, which represents companies on both sides of the border, called on political parties to show support for producers ahead of the General Election on December 12.
According to the organisation, more than six million cases of Irish whiskey, Irish cream liqueur and gin were produced in Northern Ireland last year, more than 80% of which was exported to markets other than the UK or Ireland.
Baileys Irish Cream is manufactured in Mallusk by drinks giant Diageo.
Meanwhile, Bushmills Irish whiskey, which is now produced by Proximo Spirits, accounts for the majority of Irish whiskey produced in Northern Ireland.
According to the Department for International Trade, exports of whiskey from ports including Belfast, Londonderry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine to non-EU countries were worth £25.6m last year.
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South Africa is also the fastest-growing non-EU market for Irish whiskey.
Drinks Ireland said distilleries were a major investor in the Northern Irish economy and a tourism driver.
Well-established attractions such as Bushmills Distillery, Echlinville and Rademon Estate in Co Down and the Boatyard Distillery in Co Fermanagh draw a significant number of visitors every year.
A large number of new distilleries are also being built, with former Delta Print and Packaging boss Terry Cross currently working on the Hinch Distillery in Co Down.
In Newry, meanwhile, entrepreneur Michael McKeown is working on the Matt D'Arcy distillery and reviving a name formerly associated with the business in the city.
Drinks Ireland said the UK had the fourth-highest aggregate rate of excise on alcohol products in the EU.
As a result, nearly one million cases of Northern Ireland-produced spirits that were sold in the UK market last year faced high levels of taxation.
Patricia Callan, director of Drinks Ireland, said: "The domestic market is hugely important for Northern Irish spirit producers, particularly for small producers, such as gin distilleries.
"The maintenance of a supportive domestic consumer market is a key determinant in ensuring the ongoing success of the Northern Irish spirits industry, which has a hugely positive impact on the economy.
"We saw that recent duty freezes in 2017 and 2018 actually delivered higher revenues to the exchequer. We would call on the next government to reform the excise system with a view to supporting small Northern Irish distilleries."
Drinks Ireland also called on the next government to seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit at both the withdrawal stage and if a new trade agreement is not reached after a transition period.
It said that frictionless trade and market access, including within the UK, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, within the island of Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU, was vital.
Drinks Ireland said it was seeking zero tariffs on all goods traded between the EU and UK following Brexit.