Pandemic hammers exports of Scottish salmon and whisky

The impact of the pandemic and US tariffs on Scotch whisky have hammered sales of Scotland’s biggest food and drink exports.
Sales of salmon, Scotland's largest food export, fell by 23 per cent last year as the pandemic took its toll.Sales of salmon, Scotland's largest food export, fell by 23 per cent last year as the pandemic took its toll.
Sales of salmon, Scotland's largest food export, fell by 23 per cent last year as the pandemic took its toll.

Global exports of Scotch fell by more than £1.1 billion, or 23 per cent, to their lowest level in a decade in 2020,

Scottish salmon, the nation’s biggest food export, also saw export sales plunge by the same percentage, wiping £168 million off revenues for producers.

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The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said its export figures reflected the combined impact of Covid-19 and the 25 per cent tariffs imposed in the US.

The value and volume of exports to most of the industry’s top ten markets inevitably fell as countries went into lockdown but the continued impact of the tariffs caused the most significant losses. In 2020, exports of Scotch Whisky to the US fell by 32 per cent to £729m, a loss of £340m compared to 2019, and accounting for around a third of total global export losses.

The industry has repeated calls for more support for distillers in the upcoming UK budget.

Chief executive of the SWA Karen Betts said the figures were a “grim reminder of the challenges faced by distillers over the past year”.

“In effect, the industry lost 10 years of growth in 2020 and it’s going to take some time to build back to a position of strength,” she said.“In these challenging times, what’s so disappointing is the damage being caused by US tariffs. The US has been, for decades, our strongest and most valuable market, but Scotch whisky is now losing considerable ground there. These tariffs were avoidable had the UK, EU and US governments and the European and American aerospace industries been less intransigent.”

The SWA is calling on the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak to help distillers by cutting spirits duty in next month’s budget.Meanwhile exports of Scottish salmon fell to 72,155 tonnes, compared to 2019 when 94,315 tonnes were exported.

Scottish salmon sales in China were down 76 per cent by value and down 42 per cent by value in the US.

As sales dropped in the more distant markets, Scotland’s salmon producers turned more to Europe. Exports of Scottish salmon to the EU became more important in 2020, accounting for 69 per cent of all global sales in volume and 64 per cent in value.

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Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said producers were confident exports would revive as markets opened up this year.

But he warned that the greater emphasis on Europe has now left producers even more vulnerable to the problems caused by Brexit.

“The last year has been a bruising time for the Scottish salmon sector, as these new figures show. Our producers have battled really hard to get salmon to their customers around the world, against really strong head winds,” he said.

“But now that the UK has left the EU and the full implications of Brexit are clear, our members are suffering from the burden of excessive bureaucracy and red tape which is making it difficult for them to compete in the European market.”

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