Us Tariffs: Scotch Whisky

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 5:19 pm, 7th October 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question.

The United Kingdom continues to be a champion of the international rules-based order of which the World Trade Organisation is the cornerstone. However, the United Kingdom is clear that resorting to tariffs is in no one’s interests. Low tariffs and free trade underpin prosperity and jobs in the UK and globally, which is why we are pursuing an ambitious free trade agenda, lowering tariffs and quotas where possible and working on an ambitious package of bilateral free trade agreements.

The Government are disappointed by the United States Administration’s announcement that they intend to impose tariffs on the UK and our European partners following the most recent ruling. My right hon. Friend asks what communications there have been between the Government and the United States. We have continued to raise this issue at the highest levels; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to US Trade Representative Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Ross and Vice-President Pence; my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has raised the issue of Airbus tariffs with the US Secretary of the Treasury; and the issue was raised by my right hon. Friend Mrs May with President Trump during his state visit to the United Kingdom in June this year.

The dispute has a long history; indeed, it goes back to 2004. I will not detain the House by setting out that history, but it is long and complex and has led to the WTO judgment. Although the UK, France, Germany and Spain took steps to bring their support into compliance with the WTO, the WTO ruled last year that further steps were required to bring that support fully into compliance. Following that ruling, the UK and other Airbus nations have now taken steps to bring their support fully into line. The Airbus nations are seeking confirmation from the WTO in the ongoing proceedings that those steps are sufficient to achieve compliance. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

However, WTO procedure allows for the US to seek authorisation to retaliate against the EU in parallel to the ongoing proceedings and before the WTO has confirmed whether the Airbus nations have now complied with their WTO obligations. On 2 October, the WTO announced that the US can be authorised to impose up to approximately $7.5 billion in tariffs annually. Following that, the US published a list of tariffs on the EU, targeting products produced by the Airbus nations and the wider EU. These measures are not in the interests of the UK, the European Union or the United States. Tariffs will only inflict damage on businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and harm global trade and the broader aviation industry at a sensitive time.

We are working closely with the US, the EU and our European partners to support a negotiated settlement to the Airbus dispute, along with the separate Boeing disputes. I reassure the House that we will continue to press the issue at the highest levels and urge the United States to withhold tariffs until the WTO has confirmed that we have complied in the compliance proceedings—something that we expect to happen within the next couple of months.

Single malt Scotch whisky has been tariff free with the United States for more than 25 years now, and whisky exports to the US are worth more than £1 billion annually. Single malt producers are often small and medium-sized companies, and the tariffs will hit those who can afford them least. We will continue to talk to the US at the highest levels to press for a settlement and for the US to hold off from applying the tariffs until we have had time for a ruling.