Whisky industry plea for assurances as exports rise

Scotch whisky exports rose by 4% last year. Picture: TSPL
Scotch whisky exports rose by 4% last year. Picture: TSPL
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Whisky industry bosses are hoping that Britain’s departure from the European Union will not result in a watering down of sales after cheering a rise in full-year exports.

Figures revealed today that Scotch exports rose by 4 per cent to more than £4 billion last year, marking a return to growth for the sector. The value of single malts topped £1bn for the first time.

We need the UK and Scottish governments to work with us to support sustainable growth

Julie Hesketh-Laird

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the upturn meant it was “optimistic about the future” but industry leaders called for a sector deal for Scotland’s national drink in Brexit negotiations to help combat uncertainty.

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Last year, Scotch remained the biggest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade in goods and without its benefit the UK trade in goods deficit would have been 2.8 per cent larger at almost £139bn, the SWA noted.

The drink accounts for more a fifth of the UK’s total food and drink exports and 73 per cent of the sector in Scotland, with the EU remaining the top destination for exports, rising 3.6 per cent in value over the year to £1.24bn, followed by the US, which took exports worth more than £1bn.

Sales towards the second half of 2016, following June’s Brexit vote, are likely to have received a boost from the fall in the value of the pound, making UK exports cheaper.

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SWA acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said: “With Scotch whisky exports returning to growth and rising to more than £4bn, and single malts exceeding £1bn for the first time, we’re feeling optimistic about the future.

“Demand is rising in mature markets, such as the US, and newer markets, including China. This confidence is reflected in the number of new distilleries – 14 have been opened in the last few years and we know of about another 40 at various stages of planning.

“However, we have to be alert to the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of Brexit and political changes in the UK and across the globe.

“Industry success can’t be taken for granted and we need both the UK and Scottish governments to work in partnership with us to deliver a business environment – at home and overseas – that supports sustainable growth.

“At home, for example, we are calling for a ‘sector deal’ for Scotch as the new UK industrial strategy develops, recognising our economic significance to communities across the country.”

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The association’s 2016 export report found that overseas sales of Scotch whisky rose by £153 million from 2015 to £4,008,927,149 last year.

The number of bottles dispatched increased by 4.8 per cent between 2015 and 2016 to more than 1.2 billion, meaning almost 39 bottles worth a total of £127 were exported per second.

Both the value and volume of Scotch exports returned to annual growth rates for the first time since 2011.

Bottled blended versions of the drink remain the biggest export category, accounting for 69 per cent of value in 2016.

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