Alarm voiced over US whisky tariff impact on Argyll and the isles distilleries

Oban Distillery

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News that the United States plans to slap tariffs of 25 per cent on imports of Scottish malt whisky later this month as part of its dispute with the EU over airline subsidies has been met with concern and disappointment in Argyll.

More than £1 billion worth of Scotch whisky was exported to the US last year and there is concern the new tariff, which comes into force on October 18, could impact that.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said he is ‘alarmed’ that such trade dispute could hit communities in places such as Islay very hard.

‘It’s a bitter irony that an argument between the European Union and the United States about subsidies for airliners, should embroil the malt whisky industry,’ he said.

‘EU trade negotiators need to get back into talks with their American counterparts and sort this dispute out before it does any more harm.’

Neil MacKay, chairman of Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance, said: ’25 per cent is a really major sum and it is verging on extortionate. We are very lucky that the Oban Distillery is a wonderful resource in our town and a very popular one. This could really affect business for the Oban Distillery.’

However, Mr MacKay’s concern did not end with Oban. He added: ‘For Argyll and the Isles, whisky is a vital, vital part of the economy. The distilleries are phenomenal. Is it a matter of time until they start doing the same with the likes of gin, which has had a boost in the last few years, with nearly every island having its own gin? It could have some long-term effects.’

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: ‘This is a blow to the Scotch whisky industry.  The tariff will undoubtedly damage the Scotch whisky sector. The US is our largest and most valuable single market, and over £1 billion of Scotch whisky was exported there last year.

‘The tariff will put our competitiveness and Scotch whisky’s market share at risk.  We are also concerned that it will disproportionately impact smaller producers.  We expect to see a negative impact on investment and job creation in Scotland, and longer term impacts on productivity and growth across the industry and our supply chain.’