The UK government said it will work to reduce export tariffs on Scotch Whisky and other Scottish produce as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
Whisky is worth around £5 billion to the UK economy, and accounts for three quarters of Scotland’s total food and drink exports.
About 10,800 people are directly employed in the Scotch industry with a further 29,300 indirect jobs supported.
For Scotch whisky, export tariffs currently range from zero to more than 150%.
The UK government said it is looking at how future trade agreements — if the UK left the EU — could reduce export tariffs for iconic Scottish goods such as Scotch, smoked salmon and gin.
The UK’s Department for International Trade said it has established 11 working groups to strengthen trade and commercial ties with trading partners around the world, including the United States, Australia, China, India, Mexico, South Korea and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Ministerial trade dialogues have also been established with Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Kazakhstan and Brazil.
The UK government’s Scottish Secretary David Mundell met representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association and Diageo at the Caol Ila distillery on Islay on Thursday.
Mundell said: “Scotch Whisky is a world-class product, globally recognised for its quality and heritage, and the industry employs thousands of people in Scotland and around the rest of the UK.
“We are determined to open up new markets around the world for the very best whisky our distillers have to offer – and to drive down any tariffs they face.”
However, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister Mike Russell criticised the UK’s Scottish Secretary, saying: “David Mundell’s record during the whole Brexit debate is a catalogue of contradictions – in the space of little over a year he has gone from warning about the threats that Brexit poses to Scottish jobs and our economy to being a hard Brexit cheerleader …
“The Scottish Secretary should not be travelling round Scotland trying to ‘sell’ Brexit to businesses and communities — he should in fact be listening carefully to their views, understanding their fears and their annoyance at the lack of information and lack of a Tory UK Government plan, and then raising them at the Cabinet table.
“Mr Mundell used to quite rightly warn fishermen that leaving the EU was not a ‘panacea’ for their industry — and in my constituency the fishing sector needs to know that the UK Government will not compromise their ability to export to the vital EU market, in order to secure their own objectives.
“Such information also needs to give clarity on export details, possible customs delays and synchronisation of vital regulations.
“Meanwhile, our whisky industry needs urgent assurances that the UK Government will not sell them out in order to secure a wider trade deal with the US.
“The EU’s protection of the whisky industry will be undermined and the industry will suffer if the looser US definition is forced on Scotland.”
Russell added: “David Mundell and his Tory colleagues spend a lot of time peddling false reassurances which have no evidential backing, whilst avoiding taking about the inevitably difficult consequences of Brexit.
“People across Scotland’s rural communities are increasingly of the view that the UK Government is merely looking for ways to placate opposition whilst they attempt to deliver the hardest of Tory hard Brexit agendas.
“His job is to argue Scotland’s case at Westminster, not try and sell Westminster’s case to the most fragile communities in Scotland.”