Finns happy with alcohol sales deregulation

SEPPO SIRKKA

Bus driver Seppo Nivala loads a bus with large amounts of alcohol just bought in Muonio, Finland, on Monday, 01 March 2004. Estonia joined the EU in May 2004. In anticipation, the Finnish government slashed taxes on alcohol sold by the state-alcohol monopoly Alko. But, the trips to Estonia never stopped.

Finns may have a 5,5% alcohol with their dinner, bought in a corner shop


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Finland is ready to deregulate the market for non-strong alcohol, which is one of the most regimented in Europe. Shops will be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages with up to 5,5% content – from the current 4,7% — which is the content of a stronger beer or cider.

For wine, consumers will still need to make their way to the state monopoly or travel to Finland.

That modest liberalization of alcohol sale is projected to reduce imports of beer and cider from Estonia by 50% according to the Finnish Grocery Trade Association. Also, consumers are likely to replace the consumption of stronger alcohol with lighter beverages.

The survey published on Wednesday suggests fewer Finns will travel to Estonia to buy cheaper drinks, which could increase overall alcohol tax revenue by 4,5% or €60 million.

57% of Finns support alcohol retail market deregulation, that is, a retail market currently monopolized by the state-owned Alko. Supermarket chains are expected to be primary beneficiaries of the reform.

Market liberalization has its critics. Since 1995, when Finland joined the EU, there has been pressure to liberalize alcohol distribution, which did raise consumption. Fins are the 16th biggest per capita consumers in the world according to a 2010 World Health Organization study. They are the leaders in Scandinavia, although they drink less than their Russian, Lithuanian and Belarussian neighbors.

In 2011, Finland responded with higher taxes that further boosted travel to neighboring Estonia for supplies.

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