Exports of Scotch whisky fell by more than £1.1 billion in 2020 to the lowest level in a decade, according to an industry body.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) blamed the twin impact of coronavirus and the 25% US export tariff for the drop.
Exports dropped 23% by value to £3.8 billion in 2020, the association said, with the value and volume of exports to most of the drink’s top 10 markets falling.
Hospitality closures and travel restrictions affecting airport retail led to export values falling in 70% of the global markets for Scotland’s national drink, compared to 2019.
Tariffs on the export of single malt Scotch whisky to the US imposed in a dispute over aircraft subsidies caused the most significant losses – accounting for around a third worldwide – as exports fell by 32% to £729 million in what is the product’s most valuable market.
Exports to the EU, the industry’s largest regional export market, fell by 15%.
The SWA is calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to cut spirits duty in the upcoming UK Budget to help repair the damage done to the industry.
Chief executive Karen Betts said: “These figures are a grim reminder of the challenges faced by distillers over the past year, as exports stalled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and US tariffs.
— Scotch Whisky Association (@ScotchWhiskySWA) February 12, 2021
“In effect, the industry lost 10 years of growth in 2020 and it’s going to take some time to build back to a position of strength.
“In these challenging times, what’s so disappointing is the damage being caused by US tariffs. The US has been, for decades, our strongest and most valuable market, but Scotch whisky is now losing considerable ground there.
“The Scotch whisky industry has now paid over half a billion pounds in tariffs – which are a form of tax – on behalf of the UK Government because of the subsidies that the Government granted to the aerospace sector in breach of World Trade Organisation rules.
“So we are calling on the Chancellor to support Scotch whisky distillers by reducing our tax bill in the UK.”
The UK Government has been contacted for comment.