China agrees to safeguard Scotch against pale imitation

A DEAL giving new protection to Scotch whisky to safeguard it from imitation foreign spirits will be confirmed on Monday.

Business Secretary Vince Cable will sign an agreement with the Chinese authorities that will provide legal protection to distinguish the genuine Scottish-produced article from fake products.

In a market currently worth 80 million a year, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) estimates the move will see sales in China growing by 100 per cent in the next four to five years.

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The news came as the whisky industry yesterday announced exports from Scotland grew at their highest rate for a decade to nearly 1.5 billion in the first six months of the year.

In 2007, the SWT applied for "geographical indication" status, a recognised sign or name that identifies a product with its place of origin.

It would mean that Scotch whisky would be legally recognised as a product that could only be made in Scotland.

The registration is a result of the collective work of the SWA, UK Trade & Investment, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the British Embassy Beijing.

Dram battle

BONA FIDE Scotch contrasts with imitation brands circulating in China.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) investigates up to 50 suspect products a year in the country. Brands such as Glen Highland Green Blended Whisky, which was distilled in Fujian province, and Red Scot have come under scrutiny.

Legal action has also been taken in the past in Italy to prevent alcohol with names such as "MacQueen" and "Clan 55". Alex Salmond, the First Minister, also pressed the case for protecting Scotch during a week-long visit to China last year.

Mr Cable said: "Scotch whisky is a brand recognised worldwide so it is important consumers should have confidence that the product they are buying is genuine.

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"This agreement means greater legal protection in China which will only help strengthen export sales of this successful Scottish product."

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said it was great news for Scotch whisky producers: "If it says Scotch whisky on the bottle, it will be Scotch whisky in the bottle in China's bars, restaurants, hotels and homes."

China is seen as an emerging market for whisky, with exports growing from 1 million in 2001 to some 80 million in 2009.

With a population of more than 1.3 billion, China is currently Asia's largest food and drink market by value after Japan.

The SWT released figures yesterday showing that whisky exports were increasing, with global shipments between January-June 2010 valued at 1.47 billion, up 17 per cent on the first half of 2009.

The figures also showed the volume of whisky shipments increased in the first six months of this year.

The equivalent of 477 million bottles of the national drink left Scotland over that period, a rise of three per cent on the first half of 2009.

Exports of blended whisky were worth 1.1 billion, nine per cent more than in the first half of 2009, while the value of exports of single malt rose by 31 per cent to 242 million.

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Meanwhile, new figures showed the value of blended malt Scotch whisky exports for the first time, with these worth 57 million.

The figures, based on data from HM Revenue and Customs, showed the value of exports to the USA rose to 233.7 million, making this Scotch whisky's biggest export market when looking at total worth.

There was also a 69 per cent increase in the value of Scotch whisky exports to South Korea, and a rise of 44 per cent in the value of exports to South Africa.