The Wine and Spirit Association (WSA) has called upon the UK government to reduce excise duty in the light of last week's High Court decision which ruled against HM Customs & Excise's "heavy handed" approach towards legitimate cross border shoppers bringing alcohol and tobacco into the UK from the Continent.

WSA Director Quentin Rappoport said: "We're totally against smuggling but harassing ordinary shoppers is not the way to stop it. Concern about revenue loss is at the heart of the recent clampdown on cross border shopping, but the Government must now realise that this is the wrong approach. We have long argued for the disproportionately high levels of excise duty in the UK to be brought closer into line with
France and our other low tax European neighbours as that is the real cause of the rising levels of cross border shopping.

"One in six bottles of wine drunk in the UK are bought in France, and with every bottle the Government loses revenue, British businesses lose income and British jobs are put at risk. The experience of other high tax countries, such as Switzerland, where excise has recently been cut shows that a reduction here could actually give long term revenue gains for the Government as well as stopping the decline of the drinks industry. Consumers would see the benefit in their pockets and Customs & Excise could spend more time catching the real fraudsters and smugglers rather than punishing innocent people taking advantage of the tax differential."

In its submission to the Treasury in advance of the 2002 Budget, the WSA argued for a 4% reduction in excise duty on alcohol as the first step towards harmonisation. Currently excise on a bottle of wine in the UK is £1.16, against 2p in France.