Scotland Doesn't Want American Whiskey Imports Replacing Scotch

A letter from the Scottish Economy secretary worries U.S. booze will undermine Scotch sales post-Brexit.

Photo: WILL & DENI MCINTYRE / Getty Images

Warning your friends about the dangers of drinking cheap whiskey is sensible for many reasons – imminent tomfoolery and a future hangover being two of the possible repercussions – but as the United Kingdom prepares to Brexit the European Union, Scotland is concerned for another reason: If the U.K. doesn’t protect Scotch, the famed northern whisky might be undermined by cheap alternatives from the U.S.

As Brexit discussions continue, the U.K. has a somewhat mind-numbing number of issues to address as it untangles itself from a massive web of E.U. regulations and treaties. Needless to say, the Scotch industry, which currently enjoys relatively strong protections through the E.U., wants to make sure its status isn’t neglected when new trade agreements are negotiated. So Scottish Economy Secretary Keith Brown has written to the U.K. government requesting Scotch to be defined under U.K. law to protect the distilled drinks status.

Brown specifically called out the U.S., who is currently negotiating the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU, as an example of how whisky could be weakened. “The U.S. made clear in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions that they would support a relaxation of the definition of whisky, which would open the market up to a number of products which do not currently meet that standard,” Brown was quoted as saying. “It is vital that we continue to have robust legal protection of Scotch whisky, which is why I have sought clarification from the U.K. Government as to whether Scotch whisky featured in discussions during last week’s trade visit (to the U.S.) by the Secretary of State for International Trade.”

The U.K.’s International Secretary Liam Fox visited the U.S. trying to hash out how a separate U.S.-U.K. trade agreement might look once the U.K. is officially out of the E.U. Brown’s implication is that the U.S. could potentially seek a weakening of the definition of whisky in that agreement as well. Though not directly addressed, it’s possible the Scotch industry is especially concerned that the U.K. would be willing to make concessions to the U.S. since some pundits believe the Brits may find themselves desperate for trade deals post-Brexit.

Scotch is big business for both Scotland and the U.K. as a whole. Brown says the industry directly supports about 20,000 jobs and exports about £4 billion worth of booze annually. For its part, a British government spokesman lauded the industry. “Scotch is a U.K. export success story and we will support the industry so that it continues to thrive and prosper post-Brexit,” he said, according to The Drinks Business.

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