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MPs demand government action on US Scotch tariffs

Published:  08 October, 2019

Scottish MPs have demanded that Boris Johnson speaks directly to US president Donald Trump to avert the imposition of 25% import tariffs on Scotch.

Former secretary of state for Scotland David Mundell, the Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons yesterday, calling for action and warning that over 3,000 jobs could be at risk.

“If the prime minister was able to convey directly to President Trump the damage that these proposals will do to Scotland, particularly rural Scotland, that could have an impact,” Mundell said.

His call was echoed by Brendan O'Hara, SNP MP for Argyll and Bute, who said: "The Scotch whisky industry employs 11,000 people directly so I encourage UK ministers to do everything they can to resolve this as quickly as possible because it is in no-one's interests to have a trade war like this, one where everybody will almost inevitably end up on the losing side while jobs, confidence and future investment will be all affected."

Responding for the government, international trade minister Conor Burns defended the government’s actions, saying that it had raised the issue with both the US vice president and the US treasury secretary.

The government was concerned to get all the tariffs lifted, he said, rather than focus on whisky.

“These are very bad tariffs that we believe have no foundation. We believe they are wrong. We believe they are profoundly unhelpful, and we believe they undermine the whole concept of free trade, and will damage people who are producing and employing,” he said.

“So I would rather go down the route of trying to persuade our American friends to abandon this entire series of tariff attacks, and look at the issue calmly and reasonably, based on the current facts, not ancient dispute.”

Burns urged MPs to contact the US ambassador to the UK directly to express their concerns.

The WTO ruled that the US could impose up to £6.1bn of tariffs on EU goods last week as part of a 15-year dispute with regard to state subsidies for aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing.

The import tariffs, which could come into effect from 18 October, cover a wide range of food and drink products from across the EU, including French cheese and wine, as well as other items ranging from clothing and industrial ovens.

The WTO will rule on the EU’s proposed retaliatory tariffs next year.

Responding the the WTO ruling, Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “Despite the fact that this dispute is about aircraft subsidies, our sector has been hit hard, with single-malt Scotch whisky representing over half of the total value of UK products on the US government tariff list (amounting to over £370m).

“The tariff will undoubtedly damage the Scotch whisky sector. The US is our largest and most valuable single market, and over £1bn of Scotch whisky was exported there last year.”