Donald Trump’s attack on key Scottish industry shows he’s no true friend – leader comment

Donald Trump administration is to impose tariffs on the 28-member EU bloc would affect Scotch whisky exports. Pictures: PA
Donald Trump administration is to impose tariffs on the 28-member EU bloc would affect Scotch whisky exports. Pictures: PA
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US President Donald Trump decision to target Scotch whisky industry in his trade dispute with the EU belies his warm words about Scotland.

“I love Scotland,” Donald Trump has said. “I have done so much for Scotland,” he has claimed. Scotland is a “very special place” that he longs to return to.

However, despite such declarations, the US is now planning to impose a 25 per cent tariff on products including Scotch malt whisky and whisky liqueurs, along with other popular export items from this country, such as cashmere sweaters, as part of a trade dispute with the European Union.

Trump has shown a marked fondness for using US economic muscle in an attempt to intimidate other nations into helping him “Make America Great Again”.

Given his fondness for building walls – a tariff is a barrier – and that he made “America First” one of his slogans, all this should not come as a surprise.

But there is a reason why this sort of behaviour went out of fashion in international diplomacy. It is fairly obvious that trade wars damage global trade. And if the world’s economy suffers, so does America’s.

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Most modern politicians have viewed free trade as, generally speaking, a good idea and protectionism, as appealing as it may sound to some, as a strategy that is ultimately self-harming.

This is particularly true in the 21st century with the internet and other forms of technology smashing through previously insurmountable geographical barriers.

It is now relatively simple for a business in Selkirk to sell something to a customer in Cincinnati and vice-versa. Countries that embrace this new reality and do what they can to remove any obstacles are the ones most likely to prosper in the long term.

Economic pugilism

However, meanwhile, Trump’s America is slinging metaphorical punches at the world’s other big beasts, the European Union and China, economic pugilism that has already sparked a similar response.

Because of its size, the EU can stand up for itself. The UK will presumably escape the whisky tariff if it leaves the EU on 31 October as this is a US-EU fight. But once outside the protection of Brussels, Brexit Britain is likely to find itself at the mercy of the heavyweights.

So, when seeking a UK-US trade deal with the Trump administration, our negotiators will need to be careful. If Trump doesn’t get what he wants, the consequences for our economy could be extremely serious. His words may sound like those of a friend but, as his attack on one of Scotland’s most important industries shows, he is not.