SCOTCH whisky could be dragged into a tit-for-tat trade war because of plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes in Scotland and the rest of the UK, MPs fear.
The Indonesian government has proposed forcing Australian wine to be sold in plain packaging in retaliation for Australia introducing plain packs for cigarettes in December 2012.
Indonesia is expected to impose the same restrictions on New Zealand when that country introduces plain packs for tobacco products shortly.
The south-east Asian nation has called on other major tobacco-producing countries to follow its lead. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest producers and has a high rate of domestic cigarette consumption.
Legislation for plain cigarette packaging in Scotland is due to be introduced at Holyrood before the end of the current parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron has strongly hinted that laws for the measure south of the Border will be included in the Queen’s Speech in June.
This has led to speculation from MPs that whisky could join wine from Australia and New Zealand in being sold in plain packaging in tobacco-producing nations. Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar, who supports the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco, urged ministers to intervene with Indonesia to ensure Scotch is not dragged into the dispute.
The Labour MP, who is a member of the all party parliamentary group on Indonesia, said: “UK ministers need to protect the interests of Scotch whisky and must ensure that it is not dragged into any international dispute as a result of the government introducing plain packaging for cigarettes.”
Conservative MP Priti Patel, who chairs the all party parliamentary group for small shops, recently wrote to retailers across the UK asking them to lobby the UK and Scottish governments against the plans for plain cigarette packaging.
She said: “Ministers need to be aware of the wider consequences of legislation, including the effects on international trade as well as the problems it causes for small shops across the country.
“Plain packaging is a very blunt and ill-thought-out instrument for dealing with a health issue.”
Iman Pambagyo, the director general of international trade co-operation in Indonesia’s trade ministry, said the use of plain packaging for cigarettes was not backed by scientific evidence.
“If there is no scientific clarity, the policy should not be applied, because it can affect our other commodities,” he said.
He added that the Indonesian government could implement a plain packaging policy for alcoholic beverages from Australia.
Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of cigarettes, with 360 billion produced in the country last year. Exports were valued at the equivalent of £300 million in 2009.
Indonesia was identified in 2012 by Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh as one of the new target growth markets in Asia for Scotch whisky.
Plain or standardised packaging has been introduced to help reduce smoking by replacing famous branding with graphic images depicting health problems caused by the habit.