Scotch and Bourbon Trade Associations Join Forces to Denounce Tariffs

The joint statement is an "unprecedented" collaboration between the spirits industry groups.

Two glasses of whiskey
Photo: coldsnowstorm/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives from the U.S. departments of agriculture, commerce, and trade, to try to convince them to remove the 25-percent retaliatory tariff that President Donald Trump's administration put on Scotch whisky during a largely unrelated trade dispute.

Betts and the SWA have estimated that in the first full year under the tariffs, whisky exports from the United Kingdom could drop as much as 20 percent, which would be the equivalent of losing £80 million ($104M) worth of sales. "[A]ll the tariffs are doing is damaging the sector on both sides," she said at the time. "Tariffs on whisky products also has an impact on the American economy. Price rises impact sales, which impacts on investment and jobs, and also has an effect on taxes."

On Monday, Betts flew to the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium to repeat her argument against the tariffs and to meet with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. "Pleasure to speak to [Perdue] about how close Scotch and American whisky are, [and] how much we've benefited from tariff-free trade over last 20+ years (when bourbon exports to the United Kingdom grew 410% and Scotch exports to the United States [grew by] 210%) and how we hope to return to it soon," she tweeted.

So far, U.S. officials haven't budged. On Wednesday, the SWA and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) released what The Telegraph described as an "unprecedented joint call," urging both governments to stop punishing the Scotch and bourbon whiskey industries by pulling them into a trade war that shouldn't involve them at all. (The entire thing started when the United States slapped tariffs on E.U. steel and aluminum, causing the E.U. to retaliate by putting a 25-percent tariff on some U.S. exports, including bourbon whiskey, which then caused the U.S. to return the favor with its own 25-percent tariff on a long list of E.U. products, including Scotch whisky. Whew.)

"Our message is clear. The U.K. and U.S. governments must return quickly to tariff-free trade," Betts said during a Scotch Whisky reception in London. “The current disputes about steel and aluminium and aircraft manufacture have nothing to do with us, but the tariffs stemming from them are causing needless damage to our industry on both sides of the Atlantic, and to the livelihoods we support. Constructive negotiations must solve trade disputes, tariffs on whiskies will not."

Chris Swonger, the president and CEO of DISCUS, echoed Betts' concerns. "We need to get back to zero-tariff trade which benefitted distillers on both sides of the Atlantic so our industries can go back to doing what we do best—distilling amazing whiskeys and sharing them with the world," he said.

The two trade associations are practically begging both governments to reach any agreement that would remove the tariffs from distilled spirits. Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, said that the U.K. government has previously addressed the Scotch tariffs with Trump himself, to no avail.

"These tariffs are not in the interests of the U.K., E.U., or U.S.,” Jack said, according to The Spirits Business “The U.K. government has raised the issue at the highest levels of the US administration, including with the president, and we are working hard to support a negotiated settlement."

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