French port town Calais floating in post-Brexit duty free dreams

Authorities in Northern France, in the port town of Calais are lobbying the French government to create a duty-free zone which covers the entire town if a future trade deal between the EU and France trturns to trade tariffs.

Calais’s Mayor Natacha Bouchart is anticipating that Brexit could potentially revive the cross-Channel ‘booze cruises’ that saw Britons coming in droves in the 1980s and 1990s to buy cheep wine, beer and cigarettes on board ferries.

“Our mayor is fighting for the whole town of Calais to benefit from the same duty-free rules as the ferries,” said Philippe Mignonet, one of Bouchart’s deputies.

Calais’ fortunes depend on the smooth flow of goods and people across the English Channel.

The development reflects the growing doubts in the town whether Britain will manage to retain its position in the Eurozone’s zero-tariffs single market.

“Calais authorities are also exploring the option of tax rebates that would allow visiting Britons to reclaim VAT on hotel stays and restaurant meals”, said Mignonet. The move could further encourage Britons to splurge more in the town.

EU rules allow private individuals to carry unlimited amounts of alcohol and cigarettes across the bloc’s internal borders as long as they are not for resale.

Britain now has until the end of December 2020 to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, in the absence of which the EU and Britain will levy tariffs on each other’s goods.

Philippe Mignonet, one of Bouchart’s deputies said, junior budget minister Gerald Darmanin has so far pushed back against the proposal over smuggling concerns.

“I don’t think they’ll budge on those,” said Mignonet while adding it could be applied to goods including perfumes, chocolate, and electronics.

The looming trade talks between Brussels and London will be closely watched by the wine store owners whose stores dot along the highway leading out of Calais.

“The worst case scenario? That would be to limit the huge volumes that British clients can take back with them to England,” said Oliver Versmisse, owner of the Oliver, Vin et Compagnie store.

Several million Britons used to make day trips to Calais eyer year during the heyday of the booze cruise, say local officials; duty free shopping ended in 1999 following the creation of the EU’s single bloc market.

Its renaissance on board vessels and in the ferry terminal would be “very good for the port”, opined Calais port director Jean-Marc Puissesseau, who is overseeing a 700 million euro expansion that will double the port’s capacity from early 2021.

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