Brexit could make Prosecco pricier for British buyers, Italian winemakers warn

If Britain leaves the EU on March 29th with a so-called hard Brexit, many supporters will likely be celebrating with Union Jack flags and countless bottles of Prosecco. But worried winemakers in Italy fear potential new trade tariffs would put a huge dent in a market which sees a whopping 120 million bottles of Prosecco exported to the UK each year.

Brexit could make Prosecco pricier for British buyers, Italian winemakers warn
The UK is Italy's biggest export market for Prosecco. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

“There could be price rises,” said Mattia Mattiuzzo, vice-president of regional farmers' union Coldiretti. “Without a deal it will perhaps be difficult to find a placement for the product.”

READ ALSO: The ultimate no-deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Italy

The UK is the Italian fizz's top market. Brits guzzle down 35 percent of exports of the sparkling white wine, made in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy with the DOC label, as well as the superior DOCG category.

But as it becomes increasingly clear that British Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal deal will not pass, the odds of a no-deal hard Brexit appear greater, along with all the trade uncertainty that would bring.

“It could create discontent among English consumers, as it could create economic difficulties for us to reach the English market,” said Mattiuzzo, while gently pruning his family's snaking, dark vines in preparation for this year's grapes.

Prosecco vineyards in Veneto. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

In 2016, then British foreign minister Boris Johnson caused a diplomatic spat with Italy after apparently suggesting it should back his version of a Brexit deal or face losing Prosecco sales. The threat was rebuffed by Italy's then economic development minister, Carlo Calenda, who said Britain could then miss out on “fish and chips” exports to the other 27 EU countries.

Italian producers say importers have been stockpiling Prosecco in the UK and in Ireland, where there may be a “backstop” entrance for their wine, amid fears of increased import duties and long queues of trucks at the UK border.

READ ALSO: How to future-proof your life in Italy post-Brexit

“This situation of uncertainty worries us, (but) we're confident that English citizens won't give up this pleasure,” said Innocente Nardi, head of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco consortium, standing among dramatic, vine-draped hillsides.

“The main producers are in talks with English importers to set up import places in Ireland for instance, or English-registered companies which can easily import wine,” said Nardi. “In the worst-case scenario, they should still be able to import,” he said in the dwindling grey of the northern Italian twilight.

And if UK-bound exports falter for whatever reason, there are always other markets, said Nardi. “At the moment we're expanding and being appreciated in a significant way in the United States, which is an enormous market in which we're investing, and Canada and Russia,” he said.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The wine is named after the nearby village of Prosecco, a Slovene word meaning 'path cut through the woods'. The grapes used to make the wine were also called Prosecco until growers had the name changed to Glera in 2009, so that they could protect their increasingly popular brand as a geographical location.

Although many winemakers are worried, some believe Prosecco sales can withstand Brexit — whatever the outcome.

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit: Which EU member state is being the most generous to Britons?

“I'm very optimistic, I think little will change, because now the world is globalized,” said winemaker Angelo Facchin, surrounded by the vast silver tanks where the wine is fermented in San Polo di Piave.

“Prosecco is now part of English culture. As a result, it will be difficult for them to give up our Prosecco,” smiled Facchin, whose family has made wine since 1870. The wine is “not very alcoholic, or expensive, can be drunk at any occasion and be a replacement for beer,” Facchin added.

Inside Facchin's cellars in Veneto. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Britain now accounts for 40 percent of Facchin's turnover, having expanded by 15 to 20 percent each of the last five years. His wine is drunk at St John's College, Cambridge University, he proudly says.

While some are optimistic, Stefano Zanette, head of the Prosecco DOC consortium, said a hard Brexit would be a “leap into the unknown”. While not wanting to get involved in British politics, Zanette said he supported the idea of a second referendum in the UK on its relationship with the EU.

“Most people didn't realise the consequences of their choice,” he said.

READ ALSO: Made-in-Britain mozzarella on the rise as Brexit looms

Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

By AFP's Charles Onians and Céline Cornu

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Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.