Scotch Whisky Association issues EU membership call
The UK's membership of the European Union (EU) will be important for the recovery of Scotch whisky exports which are picking up after a decline in recent years, according to an industry body.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the "uncertain global economy and political uncertainty" has created challenges for whisky exporters.
SWA chief executive David Frost said: "Scotch whisky exports continue to deliver and the fundamentals for future growth are strong.
"Whilst the last couple of years have been more difficult, the longer-term picture has been one of increased demand, new investment, and premiumisation.
"Challenges remain, with an uncertain global economy and political uncertainty in some export markets.
"Continued EU membership will also help to support Scotch whisky exports to the single market and would leave Scotch well-placed to benefit from the lower tariffs and fairer market access that the EU has been able to secure through its negotiation of free trade agreements with countries around the world."
Exports reached £3.86 billion in customs value in 2015, down 2.4% on last year, but the decline has slowed from the 7% fall seen in 2014.
Total export value is now 56% higher than a decade ago and the SWA said prospects for growth remain strong.
The volume of Scotch exports was down by 2.8% last year to 1.16 billion bottles (from 1.19 billion). That represented 34 bottles of whisky every second being shipped from Scotland.
Consumer demand for single malt continues to be strong, with shipments up to £916.4 million in 2015 (from £914 million).
Single malts now account for nearly 25% of the value Scotch whisky exports in 2015, up from 18% five years ago.
Blends remain the biggest category (£2.77 billion), accounting for 72% of the global value of exports.
The US, the biggest export destination for Scotch, remained steady at £749 million, nearly a fifth of all exports, and exports to Japan were up 18% to £76 million.
There was also growth in a number of emerging markets, with Mexico up 17% to £115 million, Turkey up 24% to almost £53 million and China returning to the top 20 markets with an increase of 5% to £41 million.
In the context of the forthcoming referendum, the SWA pointed to the fact that around 40% of the volume of Scotch shipped globally was exported to the EU last year, underlining the importance of the single market.
The SWA has argued EU membership is vital to growing Scotch whisky exports, with the EU playing a particularly important role in knocking down trade barriers as it negotiates free trade agreements with third countries.