THE Chinese authorities are expected to take action against imitation Scotch whisky by the end of year following talks with Alex Salmond in China yesterday.
The First Minister and representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association raised the issue of fake Scotch with the Chinese government.
They asked for Scotch whisky to be given special geographic protection in China. This would prevent manufacturers from selling whisky that was not made in Scotland as Scotch.
Mr Salmond said afterwards he was hopeful that substantial progress would be made on this issue by the end of the year.
The Scotch Whisky Association has been campaigning for increased protection in China for some time. The whisky market for Scotch is worth 44 million a year to Scottish distillers and it is one of the fastest-growing in the world.
However, producers have been alarmed by the number of imitation Scotch brands circulating in China. About 200 fake products have been found in the past two years alone.
The SWA applied for Geographical Indication of Origin status in 2007, which would require all products labelled as Scotch whisky to have come from Scotland and although some progress has been made since then, it has never been agreed by the Chinese government.
Yesterday Mr Salmond joined the fight against imitation Scotch whisky by asking for help from Wang Yong, the minister for quality supervision.
The First Minister said afterwards: "I am confident we can now look forward to rapid progress in securing Geographical Indication of Origin status for Scotch whisky in China."
He added: "The indications are that China will lead the global economy out of recession, and expanding international trade with such a major market as China is an important aspect of sustainable recovery.
"The opportunity for Scotch whisky exports to China is enormous, given its premium status and increases in disposable income among many millions of Chinese citizens, and securing better legal protection will establish a solid platform for growth."
Gavin Hewitt, the SWA's chief executive, welcomed the progress made, saying: "Today's meeting marks a significant milestone in the process, and I believe we can now look forward to achieving Geographical Indication of Origin for Scotch whisky in China soon.
"The Geographical Indication issue is an important one for premium products which are popular in world markets, such as Scotch whisky, and it was excellent to get access to the top minister and officials.
"We must maintain the momentum, and the SWA will be working with Scottish Government officials and the ambassador and his trade officials in China to close the deal."
Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry, who was also at the meeting, said: "The minister clearly understood the arguments about the need for Scotch to be registered as a Geographical Indication of Origin product in China.
"The Chinese government have a positive attitude, and the minister made it very clear that the priority given to this issue by the Scottish Government and the UK ambassador will expedite the process."