Secret post-Brexit trade deal ‘could threaten Scotch whisky’

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A post-Brexit trade deal with the US could signal bad news for the scotch whisky industry, with distillers warned the number of American imports could soar if trade barriers come down once the UK exits the EU.

Trade groups in the US want any deal signed between the two countries to scrap current EU guidelines centred on the ageing of whisky, which would allow American producers to promote their younger spirits as “whiskey”.

Discussions over the current EU requirement that any product labelled whisky, or whiskey, has to have been aged for at least three years have formed part of the talks. Picture: John Devlin

Discussions over the current EU requirement that any product labelled whisky, or whiskey, has to have been aged for at least three years have formed part of the talks. Picture: John Devlin

Talks between the UK and the US aimed at thrashing out what can and can’t be included in any potential trade agreement are being held in secret, transparency campaigners claim.

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The Guardian reports that a Greenpeace unit last year found that the UK and US offices involved in the talks had signed an agreement that information, documents and negotiations relating to the discussions should be seen as “confidential” or “sensitive”.

However, elements of the document have already been made public - such as calls for an end to prohibitions on cholrinated chicken - while an analysis report created by the Office of the United States Trade Representative reveals other key issues.

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According to the paper, the US is likely to push the UK to relax its stance on GM foods and biotech seeds, while also lifting bans on chemical flavourings and exportation of live cattle.

America is also likely to demand an end to the protected designation of origin scheme, which safeguards foods such as Melton Mowbray pork pies, or Cornish pasties. The US claims the protection “undermines access” for American producers.

Also included in the analysis is a discussion over the current EU requirement that any product labelled whisky, or whiskey, has to have been aged for at least three years.

The report states: “The United States has a long history of quality whiskey production, particularly by micro-distillers, which has not entailed minimum aging requirements, and views a mandatory three-year aging requirement for whiskey as unwarranted.

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“Recent advances in barrel technology enable US micro- distillers to reduce the aging time for whiskey while producing a product commensurate in quality.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, warned that the whisky issue was just the tip of a large iceberg.

He added: “We’re always told that international trade deals will help us sell more whisky – but this latest information from the US trade representative shows a trade deal with the US could actually be a threat to this iconic drink.

“The US government don’t like our food standards, and they repeatedly tell us that abandoning these standards for imports is essential if they’re going to sign a deal, which could mean changing the standard on the production of whisky and allowing iconic products like stilton to be made in the US.”

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A spokesperson for the Scotch Whisky Association told The Guardian that the organisation would campaign for EU food standards to be included in any trade deal with the US.

The spokesperson said: “We are opposed to the sale of any whisky in the UK that does not comply with the legal requirements for whisky under EU law.”