Scotch whisky exports at record high despite ‘stark’ impact of US tariffs

Scotch whisky exports are worth more than ever, new figures reveal, despite US tariffs “hitting producers hard”.

The value of whisky exported from Scotland grew by 4.4% to £4.91 billion last year, a £208 million increase on the previous high in 2018.

But export figures show whisky sold to the US has fallen by a quarter since Donald Trump’s Government introduced tariffs of 25% on the spirit in retaliation for EU subsidies to Airbus.

The figures, compiled by the Scotch Whisky Association from HMRC data, suggest growth was driven by value increases of 9.8% and 11.3% in Asia and Africa respectively.

Exports to the US grew in value by 2.8% during the whole of 2019 but figures for the last three months of the year – when the president imposed the tariffs – show a 25% drop.

While the US remained the Scotch whisky industry’s most valuable market, export volume fell by 7% to 127 million 70cl bottles.

Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen Betts said the continuing tariffs and uncertainty about future changes were “very concerning” and the falling value of exports once they were introduced in October was “stark”.

“The tariffs are hitting producers hard, particularly small distillers,” Ms Betts said.

“Some are now asking themselves how they can continue exporting to the US, whether they can build up alternative markets, which is not something that can be done quickly, and if not how their businesses will cope.

“We are continuing to press the UK Government to put in place a package of support for distillers to help mitigate the impact of tariffs, including a cut in excise duty in next month’s budget which would allow distillers to re-invest in the UK market while sales are under pressure in the US.”

Accounting for more than 20% of all UK food and drink exports, Scotch whisky is sold in an estimated 180 global markets, with the latest figures suggesting the value of the products has grown in approximately 106 of them.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously claimed “cynical” tariffs on whisky would “vanish” if the UK left the EU.

Speaking on a visit to a distillery near Elgin, Moray, in November, Mr Johnson said he “interceded” with Donald Trump to get the tariffs dropped.

He said: “You know why this happened, why they put a tariff on Scotch whisky?

“It’s because the EU Commission decided to put a tariff on bourbon so the Americans automatically retaliated by hitting whisky.

“Once we come out of the EU, once we get Brexit done, those tariffs will no longer apply to this country.

“But we’re hoping to get rid of them even sooner than that, and I’ve certainly asked the president to lift them.”

Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “It is exciting to see the Scotch Whisky industry evolving and continuing to go from strength-to-strength.

“It is particularly pleasing to see growth in new and emerging markets such as Asia and Africa, where exports of whisky have boomed in recent years.

“The success of whisky exports is cause for celebration and is due, in part, to industry and Scottish Government working together to create a national brand with a global reputation.”

He added: “The Scotch whisky industry is a major employer in Scotland and we will continue to do everything we can to protect it.

“This includes keeping pressure on the US Government and UK ministers to end the damaging increase in tariffs on exports.”