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Scotch Whisky Association is right to up the pressure over US export tariffs

By Matt MacPherson

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Whisky exports have fallen by more than 35 per cent. Picture: Gary Anthony
Whisky exports have fallen by more than 35 per cent. Picture: Gary Anthony

You should never mix alcohol and politics, but unfortunately there is a nasty political cocktail that is using the Scotch industry as the main ingredient.

So what’s going on? In October 2019, the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, imposed a 25 per cent tariff on imports of single malt Scotch whisky.

This tariff, and retaliation imposed on the additional UK and European products at the same time, was awarded to the US by the World Trade Organisation under the Boeing/Airbus trade dispute because of subsidies given to Airbus by EU member states including the UK.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the trade body for Scotch whisky, says US tariffs are forcing UK distillers to pay the price for an aerospace dispute that has nothing to do with them. Whisky exports have fallen by more than 35 per cent, worth over £0.5 billion pounds.

The SWA’s chief executive, Karen Betts, has described the current situation as “unsustainable”. She said: “This is being borne by large and small producers alike, who are losing sales and market share in what has been for decades the industry’s largest and most valuable market, which they may now never recover.

"It’s very hard for Scotch whisky producers to understand why the UK government is so unwilling to address the UK violations of WTO rules on aerospace subsidies at the root of the tariff.”

Throw into the mix the difficult trading conditions as a result of Brexit and global travel restrictions to help reduce transmission of Covid-19, and it really is a recipe for disaster.

But why should you care? Well, Scotch whisky is one of Scotland’s and the UK’s most important industries. It employs 11,000 people in Scotland, and the sector’s supply chain supports 40,000 jobs throughout the UK. Scotch is worth over £5.5 billion to the UK economy.

My team and I are part of those numbers. I see the hard work and enthusiasm across the industry and it upsets me to see it being unfairly damaged.

The SWA is urging the UK government urgently to call for the immediate suspension of all tariffs on unrelated sectors, and a resolution to the aerospace dispute by addressing UK violations of WTO rules on subsidies.

What can you do? Let your MP know how you feel, tell them to #calltimeontariffs by urging the UK government to act quickly to support the International Trade Secretary in finding a deal to end the tariffs.

Finally, would the French government allow this to happen to their wine? I don’t think so.

  • Matt MacPherson is the owner and founder of The Malt Room in Inverness.

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