UK 'determined to push down tariffs on Scotch whisky sales overseas post-Brexit'
The UK Government is determined to "drive down" tariffs on the sales of Scotch whisky overseas in the wake of Brexit.
With whisky boosting the UK economy by about £5 billion a year, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said ministers are keen to open up new markets around the world for the iconic drink.
He spoke out ahead of a meeting on the island of Islay, in the Hebrides, which is home to several distilleries.
Mr Mundell will have talks with representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and drinks manufacturers Diageo at the Caol Ila distillery.
Export tariffs on Scotch range from zero to more than 150%, with the UK Government now looking at how future trade agreements with other nations could reduce these for products such as whisky, smoked salmon and gin
The Scottish Secretary said: "Scotch whisky is a world-class product, globally recognised for its quality and heritage, and the industry employs thousands of people in Scotland and around the rest of the UK.
"We are determined to open up new markets around the world for the very best whisky our distillers have to offer - and to drive down any tariffs they face.
"By strengthening ties with key partners, identifying new markets and tackling tariffs, the UK Government is paving the way towards an even brighter future for Scotland's whisky industry."
Scotch whisky accounts for about a third of Scottish food and drink exports, with a report by the SWA estimating the industry directly contributes £3.2 billion a year to the UK economy, with a further £1.7 billion of indirect benefits.
Meanwhile, 10,800 people are employed in the sector, while it also supports 29,300 jobs indirectly, according to the research
International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: " With the recent uplift in trade, we should raise a glass to our exporting success and further help UK businesses make the most of an ever-growing demand for top-selling British products such as Scotch whisky as part of a global Britain.
"Reducing the costs for companies to sell overseas will become one way of further opening up free trade routes and boosting sales, and that's why I've tasked my international economic department to look at how we can support more businesses to build their brands abroad."
SWA chief executive Karen Betts said: " The Scotch whisky industry is delighted that the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, is visiting Islay.
"He'll see the fascinating Islay distilleries, famous for their smokey malts. He'll see too the importance of the Scotch Whisky industry to Islay's local communities, and how whisky production there contributes more broadly to the Scottish and British economies."
Holyrood Brexit minister Mike Russell hit out at the Scottish Secretary, saying: " David Mundell's record during the whole Brexit debate is a catalogue of contradictions - in the space of little over a year he has gone from warning about the threats that Brexit poses to Scottish jobs and our economy to being a hard Brexit cheerleader."
The Scottish Government minister added: " The Scottish Secretary should not be travelling round Scotland trying to 'sell' Brexit to businesses and communities - he should in fact be listening carefully to their views, understanding their fears and their annoyance at the lack of information and lack of a Tory UK Government plan, and then raising them at the Cabinet table.
"Mr Mundell used to quite rightly warn fishermen that leaving the EU was not a 'panacea' for their industry - and in my constituency the fishing sector needs to know that the UK Government will not compromise their ability to export to the vital EU market, in order to secure their own objectives. Such information also needs to give clarity on export details, possible customs delays and synchronisation of vital regulations.
"Meanwhile, our whisky industry needs urgent assurances that the UK Government will not sell them out in order to secure a wider trade deal with the US. The EU's protection of the whisky industry will be undermined and the industry will suffer if the looser US definition is forced on Scotland."
He added: " David Mundell and his Tory colleagues spend a lot of time peddling false reassurances which have no evidential backing, whilst avoiding taking about the inevitably difficult consequences of Brexit.
"People across Scotland's rural communities are increasingly of the view that the UK Government is merely looking for ways to placate opposition whilst they attempt to deliver the hardest of Tory hard Brexit agendas.
"His job is to argue Scotland's case at Westminster, not try and sell Westminster's case to the most fragile communities in Scotland."