UK’s pursuit of post-Brexit US trade prompts Scottish whisky worries

The UK's recent overtures to the US have prompted fears of a race-to-the-bottom in standards. [Shutterstock]

Scotland’s economic minister has written to the UK government urging Westminster to duplicate EU legislation that protects its world-renowned Scotch whisky, after Brexit. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Edinburgh is worried about its whisky production. Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Keith Brown sent a letter to UK trade chief Liam Fox, asking him to include a definition of whisky in British law, according to reports by The Independent.

Scotch whisky, which currently contributes €5.6 billion to the British economy, is protected from counterfeiting and competition from lower quality products by a precise definition in European legislation.

But when the United Kingdom departs the bloc in 2019, these provisions will no longer apply on the other side of the Channel.

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Threat from across the Atlantic?

Brown’s plea comes shortly after Fox’s trip to the United States, in which the trade chief looked to lay the groundwork for a post-Brexit commercial deal with Washington. The Scotsman also asked Fox for “clarifications” about whether whisky was mentioned in the talks.

Scotland’s fears stem from the prospect of whisky regulation being downgraded as part of a future trade deal with the US. The Americans have already made it clear that they want the market to be opened up to products that currently do not meet quality standards.

Under EU rules, whisky must be matured by for at least three years for it to carry the whisky label. During Brussels’ stalled TTIP negotiations, US experts insisted that advancements in “barrel technologies” mean whisky can now be produced in one year, with the same result.

Whisky expert Fiona Rintoul told The Herald that the economy of the Scottish Highlands and Isles could be damaged if whisky quality is compromised. She added that the idea of weakening regulation is “demented”.

Welsh whisky wades into precarious Brexit world

EU rules are set to allow Wales to call itself a whisky producing nation, as the country prepares for the opening of its second distillery. But it is venturing into an industry that faces immense uncertainty because of the Brexit vote.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, which is tasked with defending the interests of Scotch producers, about 40,000 British citizens are employed in the industry and it makes a net contribution to trade that totals about €4.1 billion.

A government spokesperson insisted that Westminster “has a very good relationship with SWA and is working closely with the industry to secure the best deal for the whole of the UK”.

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