Scotch whisky’s Indian trade talks ‘will take time’

Frost: India is a huge market. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Frost: India is a huge market. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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THE Scotch whisky industry needs to remain patient despite the glacial progress in the free trade agreement (FTA) talks between the European Union (EU) and India, the trade body said this weekend.

The talks, partly aimed at trying to cut India’s swingeing 150 per cent import tariffs on Scotch and other spirits, have been going on since 2007. A high-level working meeting scheduled for late last month after a two-year gap was postponed by the Indian authorities.

David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), speaking ahead of a trade delegation to India this week, said: “We have to be realistic that this will take time.

“There’s no doubt that we would like to get going again. But I don’t think that necessarily making a big issue out of it is useful.”

The latest meeting was postponed by India in a tit-for-tat after the EU recently banned 700 Indian pharmaceutical products clinically tested by India-based GVK Biosciences.

Frost, a former British diplomat who took up his SWA post in January 2014, said: “There are still lots of barriers to doing business in India. But no one expects to see things leaping forward.

“It’s a pity that this most recent delay has happened. But I have spent enough time in these sort of negotiations to know they have their own pace.”

Frost and other industry figures fly to India on Tuesday, a trip which includes an event at the British High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi.

Frost said the prize was great as India represented a “huge” market for Scotch whisky, where it only has a 1 per cent market share. Scotch volume sales there jumped 30 per cent to 80 million bottles last year.