Nine local companies focusing on the import and manufacture of craft beverages, have warned that the upcoming introduction of the Bottle Collection Refund System (BCRS) threatens to decimate their business model while providing minimal benefits for the environment.

This long-awaited scheme will be operated from April via reverse vending machines, and will see consumers pay 10c per bottle upfront, then get refunded when they return said container to a machine.

However, consumers will not be the only ones required to financially contribute to the scheme, and the BCRS Conditions for Participation that states that €100 and VAT is to be paid by beverage importers and producers for each individual product brought onto the local market.

The aforementioned nine local companies, representing the lion’s share of the Maltese craft beverage production and import, from beer to wine and from cider to spirits, laid out their concerns in an open letter to the Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia.

The letter was signed by representatives of Moocho Ltd / Beer Head, Bicanter Ltd, DM Crafted Imports Ltd, Hole in the Wall Ltd / Tuff Cider, Barfly Malta, POPP, Lord Chambray Brewery, The Huskie Craft Beer Company and Maltabrew Ltd, and is available to view online.

This rule, they said, disproportionately effects craft beverage importers, who may place 300 different products on the market per annum, whereas a large importer may only import five mass-market products, still contributing millions of beverage containers.

POPP has been particularly vocal about the rule, taking to social media on Tuesday (today) to explain: “At POPP, the nature of our business entails that we import several different types of products in low quantities.

“Throughout a year we easily have over 250 different types of beers and drinks, of which we import perhaps just few dozens of each, never to be imported again. That means €25,000 of registration fees alone.”

Concerns go above the direct financial impact of the rules, however, and POPP takes issue with the administration of the scheme by completing local suppliers.

They point to the fact that BCRS is a private company “made up of the biggest companies” in the local beverage industry, and ask why they are expected to register their products and provide commercial details to their competitors.

This is also addressed implicitly in the letter, which asks the Minister to address shortcomings in the legislation so the operator of the BCRS system is not allowed to use it to stamp out competition.

BCRS Malta Ltd has as its registered owners three local associations, Malta Beverage Producers Association, Malta Beverage Retailers Association, and Malta Beverage Importers Association.

The company has as its directors beverage giant Farsons Group’s CEO, Norman Aquilina, leading wine manufacturer Marsovin’s CEO, Jeremy Cassar, and The General Soft Drinks Company CEO, Maria Micallef, among others also directly involved in the industry.

The protesting importers claim that several attempts to engage with BCRS Malta have come to no avail, and that as such, they are now reaching out to the Government to ask for consideration to be given to their unique situation.

They ask for the Maltese authorities to reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach, perhaps looking at other EU legislation, such as the Danish system, where small imports operate under a different regime so that the system is proportionate and not discriminatory.

Should they fail to do so, POPP’s warning is stark: “[The scheme] would effectively mean that it wouldn’t make financial sense for its to keep importing such products or otherwise the pricing for them would be unrealistic.”

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