More than £1 billion of Scotch whisky exports could be at risk for an industry that supports 40,000 jobs if the UK leaves the EU, according to Scotch whisky bosses and the UK Government.
Outside of the EU, the UK’s Scotch producers “could face bureaucratic barriers when trading with Europe” according to the Scotch Whisky Association.
And the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said on Monday the EU single market provides common standards on labelling, certification and licencing “creating a level playing field which makes overseas trade far easier for highly regulated industries such as alcohol.”
The UK Government said British whisky exporters also benefit from deals brokered by the European Union to trade freely with countries such as South Africa, where exports have increased by more than 150% since 2004.
UK Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss heard how important the EU market is for the £5 billion a year Scotch sector when she met industry representatives for a roundtable discussion at Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery south of Edinburgh on Monday.
“We should all raise a toast to our biggest export success,” said Truss.
“Europe has a taste for Scotch and the industry will do better if we remain in the EU because whisky producers have hassle free, easy access to the Single Market of 500 million people.
“I want the industry to continue to be the powerhouse it has become across the world — boosting our economy and creating jobs.
“The Scotch whisky industry has strong global trade links beyond Europe in America and Asia, and their business leaders are clear that the EU single market provides the best conditions to reach even greater heights.
“Leaving the EU would be a leap in the dark for our great British food and drink industry and could lead to years of negotiations on new trade deals — with no guarantees at the end.
“Our thriving Scotch industry and the wealth it brings to us all through jobs and investment will be stronger, safer and better off within a reformed EU.”
A third of all UK whisky is consumed in mainland Europe and more than one billion bottles are exported worldwide.
Exports of British whisky to France were worth almost £450 million last year and more Scotch is sold in one month in France than cognac is sold in a year.
Scotch Whisky Association chief executive David Frost said: “Scotch supports around 40,000 jobs across the UK, adds around £5 billion in value to the economy and is vital to the UK balance of trade.
“EU membership has many advantages for Scotch.
“The single market, including its regulation of food and drink, and its single trade policy are central to the success of Scotch.
“It lets us trade across the EU simply and easily and helps give us fairer access to other overseas markets.”
Ivan Menezes, Diageo chief executive, said: “Diageo — and specifically our Scotch whisky business — benefits greatly from the UK’s membership of the EU and we strongly believe that we should remain within that union.
“The Single Market gives us a level playing field and open access across the EU, while the EU’s clout in international trade helps to open up new markets with agreements favourable to the UK, reducing tariffs and resolving trade disputes.
“This drives significant value for us and the wider Scotch whisky industry, sustaining jobs and growth at home.”
The UK Government estimates that Scotch is worth £125 per second to the UK economy and accounts for almost a quarter of all British food and drink exports.