Single malt whisky remains a casualty in transatlantic trade war

Alan Tovey
·3-min read

Liz Truss has vowed to keep fighting for Scotland’s whisky industry after the US spared other British alcoholic drinks from tariffs amid a transatlantic trade war.

The Trade Secretary welcomed a White House decision to avoid slapping charges on imports of gin and blended whisky - but hit out at the continued duties on single malts.

She vowed to continue talks with her American counterpart Bob Lighthizer in a bid to get the tax lifted. The two sides have already agreed to end levies on shortbread.

Ms Truss said: “These tariffs damage industry and livelihoods on both sides of the Atlantic and are in nobody’s interests. I am therefore stepping up talks with the US to remove them as soon as possible.”

The 25pc single malt tariff was imposed as part of a 16-year battle at the World Trade Organization (WTO) between the US and European Union, with each claiming that the other handed out illegal subsidies to support their domestic aerospace industries.

In October the US won a ruling which allowed it to pile $7.5bn (£5.7bn) of tariffs on imports from the EU in retaliation for EU state subsidies to Airbus. A reciprocal claim about US aid for Boeing is expected to get a verdict from the WTO in the next few months, paving the way for similar action. 

US Trade Representative Mr Lighthizer said certain products produced in the UK and Greece would now be removed from the tariff list, but others from France and Germany would be added to keep the total value of tariffs at $7.5bn. 

Airbus A350
Airbus A350

Tariffs of 15pc on Airbus aircraft will be maintained, along with a 25pc levy on other European goods including cheeses, jams and wines. 

Mr Lighthizer said: “The EU and member states have not taken the actions necessary to come into compliance with WTO decisions. The US, however, is committed to obtaining a long-term resolution to this dispute.”

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said it was deeply disappointed that the single malt tariffs had not been removed, with exports of scotch whisky to the US down 30pc since they were imposed in October at a cost to the industry of £300m.

It accused Britain of failing to act fast enough, saying action should have been taken rapidly after Britain left the EU six months ago. 

Karen Betts, SWA chief executive, said: “The tariff is inflicting huge damage.

“The UK government must now focus its energy on developing a clear strategy for settling the UK share of the Airbus/Boeing and steel and aluminium disputes with the US, rather than looking to the EU to do this for us. While we welcomed Liz Truss’s visit to the US last week, it was clearly too little, too late.”

Last month Airbus said it had agreed a deal with the French and Spanish governments to pay a higher rate of interest on loans to develop the A350 airliner, a move which it and the EU said ended claims from the US that it had not complied with the WTO’s rulings on illegal state aid.