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UK to suspend US tariffs in hope of relief on Scotch exports post-Brexit

Published:  09 December, 2020

The UK is to suspend existing EU-imposed import tariffs on a slew of US products as Brexit transition comes to an end on 1 January, with the hope that a reciprocal move will see harsh US duties on Scotch lifted.

The announcement by business secretary Liz Truss, reported across several sources including The Times, potentially offers some light for the Scotch whisky industry, which has been labouring under a 25% tariff for exports to its biggest overseas market.

The swingeing tariffs came about as a tit-for-tat exchange between the EU and US, centred on an ongoing trade dispute concerning Airbus and Boeing, which saw the World Trade Organisation allow the US to impose $7.5bn worth of tariffs on a range of EU goods last year.

Scotland’s whisky distillers typically generate a fifth of their export sales – some £1bn – from shipments to the US, a figure that has slumped during 2020, hitting the industry hard, with this compounded by the challenges of a pandemic year.

In a statement posted on the Scotch Whisky Association's (SWA) website yesterday (8 December), the organisation’s chief executive Karen Betts described the move as “a very encouraging step by the UK government”, which was to be welcomed.

“It shows the UK government’s determination to de-escalate the damaging transatlantic trade disputes that have seen Scotch Whisky exports to the US fall by over 30% in the past year. We now call on the US government to reciprocate by suspending the tariffs on UK goods stemming from the Airbus/Boeing dispute, so that industries in the UK and the US affected by this dispute can once again trade freely.”

Betts added: “It is encouraging that the UK government is making use of the flexibility of an independent trade policy to help find solutions to issues that, in Scotch Whisky’s case, are damaging our global exports. We hope that this marks the beginning of the end of trade tensions with the US.”