Thirsty day-trippers flatten UK sales: 20% of beer drunk at Christmas came from France. John Shepherd reports

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The Independent Online
A FIFTH of beer drunk in British homes over Christmas was bought by day-trippers to France, according to the Brewers' Society, the industry's trade body.

Cheap ferry fares, which are to fall further because of competition from the Channel tunnel, and much lower prices for beer in France and Belgium are boosting levels of cross-border shopping.

The Brewers' Society had estimated annual personal imports of beer from across the Channel would run at about 150 million litres, based on figures for the nine months to September.

Now it says: 'All the indications are that this is going to be a very conservative estimate. We have accepted the fact that we were underestimating - and perhaps by a long way.'

The society hopes to publish more concise figures for 1993 by the end of this week. Customs figures are expected next month.

Besides being concerned about the growth in personal imports, the brewing industry is becoming increasingly worried about illegal shipments being resold cheaply in the UK. While there is no official limit on imports, goods brought in must be for personal consumption. Illegal imports may be as high as a third of all the beer brought back from France. All the UK's largest brewers complained about the problem in the recent results reporting season.

Whitbread, one of the main campaigners against the cheap imoprts, said: 'We want the Government to do two things. Act now to stop illegal imports and then start to bring our duty rates into line with France.'

UK duty rates on beer are eight times higher than in France. And beer prices in a hypermarket in the French port of Calais are up to 75 per cent cheaper.

Customs and Excise, however, said the consequential loss of revenue to the Government was minimal. A spokesman said: 'We are not trying to be complacent, but we estimate a revenue loss of pounds 175m on tobacco and booze.

'In a year we raise pounds 11bn excise duty on tobacco and beer. Revenue does not seem to be seriously affected.' Of the estimated revenue loss, pounds 100m relates to tobacco, pounds 45m for beer and pounds 30m on wines. In the first 10 months after the single market started a year ago, Customs handled more than 900 cases involving people trying to evade duty by bringing goods back for resale.

(Photograph omitted)

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