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Dept says it’s difficult to meet with liquor industry due to ongoing litigation

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The Department of Trade and Industry says it would be difficult to sit down with stakeholders in the liquor industry due to pending litigation advanced by SA Breweries and Vinpro over the sale of alcohol.

File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

THE DEPARTMENT of Trade and Industry (DTI) says it would be difficult to sit down with stakeholders in the alcohol industry due to pending litigation advanced by SA Breweries and Vinpro over the sale of booze.

Government instituted a ban on the sale of alcohol three weeks ago when South Africa surged into a third wave of Covid-19.

On Wednesday, the SA Beer Association (Basa) and other liquor industry leaders issued a press statement bemoaning that efforts to hold an urgent meeting with DTI Minister Ebrahim Patel and senior officials were being ignored.

In response, DTI spokesperson Bongani Lukhele said it would be difficult for government to meet with alcohol industry leaders after SAB and Vinpro approached the courts over the ban on the sale of alcohol.

SAB said the fourth alcohol ban in just a little over a year would cripple the industry and that though it was sensitive to the conditions borne out of Covid-19, there was no scientific evidence that the consumption of alcohol heightened the risk of contracting the virus.

In a separate court challenge at the Western Cape High Court, Vinpro, a non-profit body which represents over 2,600 wine producers, said at the start of July that the fourth alcohol ban had a devastating effect on industry and 269,000 people who relied on the sector to make a living.

“More than 80% of the 529 wineries are small and medium enterprises, reliant on direct sales to customers. Although wine exports may continue, the industry exports less than 50% of annual production, with the other half sold on home soil. With no financial support from government for these businesses, their prospects, and that of employees, are bleak,” said Vinpro managing director Rico Basson.

Lukhele said Patel had engaged intensively with the industry in the NEDLAC Rapid Response Task Team on Covid-19 (NRRTT).

“This is a structure of Nedlac which includes organised labour, business, government and community representatives and the liquor industry issues have been extensively discussed within this structure. The NRRTT also set up a Liquor Industry Task Team (LITT) which has been meeting regularly and where the DTIC is an active participant along with business and organised labour,” said Lukhele.

He said the task team had agreed on a social compact for the sector and said Patel and DTI Deputy Minister Fikile Majola had engaged with the alcohol industry earlier this year.

“The Liquor Traders Association of South Africa had chosen not to participate in these consultations.

“It should also be noted that a number of liquor industry participants such as SAB and Vinpro have active legal cases against government which makes engaging the industry much more difficult.

“Notwithstanding this, we remain committed to continually engaging with lead representatives from the liquor sector,” said Lukhele.

Earlier on Wednesday, it was reported that the liquor industry was calling for the alcohol ban to be lifted, while calling on government to urgently meet with them and discuss the impact of last week’s riots on the industry.

The liquor industry said over 160 liquor outlets and distribution centres were looted and damaged during violent and deadly riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last week, as thousands of people looted shops and caused damage to infrastructure worth billions of rand.

Basa chief executive Patricia Pillay called on government to lift the alcohol ban, saying a continued ban would threaten the livelihoods of over a million people who are supported by the industry.

The organisation said over 9,200 jobs were on the line during the fourth alcohol ban, while government has lost up to R10 billion on taxes and excise duties, and over R14bn in lost booze sales for beer alone.

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