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British winemaker in France, fearing no-deal Brexit, targets new markets

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By Alexandre Minguez

ARGELES-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) – Winemaker Andy Cook has long exported medium-bodied Cotes de Roussillon reds and grenache-blended whites to his native Britain, but faced with the risk of a no-deal Brexit he has now lined up two new markets – Russia and China.

From his vineyards in the rolling hills near Perpignan in southern France, Cook and his two French partners produce 250,000 bottles a year. Most are sold locally, but some 10,000 are sent annually to Britain, the Mas Cristine label’s second-largest export market after Belgium.

Those sales to Britain, which represent yearly revenues of 70,000 euros, are already pressured by a slump in the value of the sterling currency as importers negotiate lower prices. Now Cook faces a possible risk of tariffs on exports to Britain.

“This year we’ve found two new markets at trade fairs: Russia and China. These two new markets could be as important to us as Britain is currently,” Cook told Reuters at his vineyard in Argeles-sur-Mer, which lies on the border with Spain.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, automatic reciprocal tariff-free market access will end and Britain and the European Union, the world’s largest free trade area, will resume trading under World Trade Organization terms.

Cook said there was still no clarity on what level of duty would be applied to Britain’s wine imports.

“Britain has been an important shop window for wine, it’s important to be in the British market. Maybe now we have to think a little bit more, start looking elsewhere and stop giving privilege to the British market,” said Cook, who quit his job in Scotland as a wine importer 13 years ago to set up in France.

With just 29 days to go until Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised “do or die” to take Britain out of the EU, there is still no deal in place to ensure smooth trade with the bloc.

In a speech at his Conservatives’ annual conference in Manchester on Wednesday, Johnson made a Brexit offer to the EU which he said was reasonable and constructive, warning that the alternative was no deal.

Businesses from aircraft makers to pharmaceuticals are stockpiling to mitigate the impact of a potentially chaotic no-deal scenario. Cook said one of his four British importers had ordered an extra 50% in October to build up his inventory.

“It’s tough. We’re already in October and we still don’t know what’s going to happen.”

On a personal level, Cook, who already holds a 10-year French residency card, said he was ready to apply for French nationality if necessary.

“Sure, it will take time, there will be a lot of paperwork, but this is France. But it’s a step I’m prepared to take.”

(Reporting by Alexandre Minguez; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Gareth Jones)

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