Scottish Economy Secretary Keith Brown has called on the British government to secure the status of Scotch whisky as the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU).
In a letter addressed to British officials, Brown warned that failing to protect Scotch whisky’s status could threaten the industry, which is worth around £4bn.
“Aside from being a key part of Scottish culture and identity, our whisky supports around 20,000 jobs,” he said.
“It is vital that we continue to have robust legal protection of Scotch whisky, which is why I have sought clarification from the UK government as to whether Scotch whisky featured in discussions during last week’s trade visit by the (US) Secretary of State for International Trade.”
Under current EU legislation, whisky is clearly defined by a set of requirements, including that the whisky must mature for at least three years in a barrel.
However, during free trade talks under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) framework, the US expressed an interest in relaxing the strict definition of whisky to open the market.
The issue was included on a list of trade barriers drawn up by US officials, which urged the UK to reduce the ageing requirement to the standard 12-month period required in the US.
The Foreign Trade Barriers document argued that the requirement was ‘unwarranted’ as barrel technology had advanced enabling “US micro-distillers to reduce the ageing time for whisky”.
Brown said any relaxation in the definition of whisky would open the market to a number of cheaper but sub-standard American products.
“After reports this week that the UK government is contemplating trade deals that threaten the value and reputation of Scottish produce once again we can see the confusion which is at the heart of the UK government’s Brexit position,” he said.
“We need to be sure that any future deals work for Scotland and are not threatening the livelihoods of our farmers and producers.”
Roughly 90% of Scotch whisky production is exported and one-third of that arrives in EU countries. The second-largest Scotch whisky market is the US, according to government figures.
In May, the Scotch Whisky Association warned that the continuing growth of the Scotch whisky industry was partially dependent on how well the government negotiated Brexit.
“We have been active in calling on the government to ensure the UK has open a trade policy as possible, protects Scotch whisky and delivers change with the minimum disruption,” it said.
A UK government spokeswoman said the government would be working closely with the whisky industry during trade negotiations.
“Scotch is a UK export success story and we will support the industry so that it continues to thrive and prosper post-Brexit,” she said.