SNP told to 'stop talking UK down' by Graham Stuart
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The SNP warned the sector has faced “eye-watering losses” in part due to leaving the European Union. It claimed Brexit has been “devastating” and warned the loss in whiskey exports was impacting Scotland’s wider economy.
Analysis from the House of Commons library indicates UK exports of whiskies to the EU were £105.7million lower in January-May 2021 when compared to the same period in 2019.
The figures indicate the sector was worst hit in the first three months of the year when exports dropped by £135.9million compared to in 2019.
Spread of the Covid variant first found in Kent let to stockpiling shortly before Christmas.
Extra border checks introduced by France in a bid to try and curb the spread of the mutant strain have been blamed for distorting exports in the months immediately after the UK left the EU.
But SNP MP for Argyll and Bute, Brendan O’Hara, has blamed leaving the EU for playing a key role in the drop in exports.
He told The Scotsman: “Scotch whisky plays a crucial role in the success of Scotland’s food and drinks sector and our economy given it accounts for 75 percent of the sector – so for the industry to be losing £5million per week is devastating.
“The triple whammy of a Brexit that Scotland didn’t vote for, the pandemic and the US tariffs – which have thankfully now been lifted but not before they cost the industry at least half a billion pounds – have dealt a hammer blow to the Scottish whisky sector.
“All in all the losses to Scotch Whisky exports have been eye-watering, as a result of a Tory Brexit and the UK Government’s lack of action over the US tariffs – it is beyond time the UK Government made amends for this.”
Hitting back, Downing Street described the SNP’s claims as “misleading”.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The impact of the Covid pandemic and restrictions across Europe has affected trade and depressed demand, so it is too early to draw firm conclusions on the impacts of our new trading relationship with the EU.
“The latest export statistics for May also show that the value of goods exports to the EU was higher than the monthly average for 2020.
“We continue to help businesses get the support they need to trade effectively with Europe, including by running export helplines and webinars with experts, providing financial support to SMEs and delaying the introduction of full import controls.”
Under Donald Trump the US imposed tariffs on whiskey exports as part of a dispute with the EU.
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As a member of the bloc at the time, UK firms were also impacted by the measures.
Shortly after Britain was freed from Brussels rules at the start of 2021, the US suspended the tariffs.
Highlighting the benefits Brexit was having for Scottish Whiskey industry, they added: “Industries can also seize new opportunities as we strike new trade deals and reduce trade barriers around the world, as we did when we secured the suspension of the US’s retaliatory tariffs for the Scottish whisky industry earlier this year.”
The Scotch Whisky Association also said the figures made clear the situation was rapidly improving for exports.
A spokesman said: “The way Scotch Whisky is exported to the European Union has changed since Brexit, and producers have had to adapt to changes to customs systems, labelling and paperwork, as well as the withdrawal of some transport services.
“The level of exports fluctuates month by month, and this has been impacted over the past eighteen months by both the Covid-19 pandemic as well as by the UK’s departure from the EU.
“While it was undoubtedly a tough start to the year for companies, the drop in exports in the first quarter is partly explained by increased exports in December 2020.
“Now that infection-control measures in many of our global markets are easing, the pace of the industry’s export recovery is encouraging.”
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