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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

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his support; I think this is a relatively rare but very welcome moment where there will be an outbreak of consensus across the House.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the Scotch whisky industry to the UK. Whisky is the UK’s biggest single agrifood export, accounting for more than 21% of all UK food and drink exports. In 2018, exports of all whisky from the UK totalled £4.8 billion, of which the Scotch Whisky Association claims £4.7 billion is Scotch whisky. Scotch whisky is the biggest single contributor to the UK balance of trade in goods, and the largest single market for UK exports of all whisky—not just Scotch whisky—by value is the United States, which imported more than £1 billion-worth in 2018 or a volume of 84,791 tonnes.

Beyond that, a further £268 million is injected into the economy through the supply chain, leading to a UK-wide impact of just under £5 billion. Some 40,000 jobs are directly supported by the Scotch whisky industry, 7,000 of which are in rural areas of Scotland. This is an absolutely vital sector to the United Kingdom and one that we are determined to do everything we can to protect.

The shadow Secretary of State will have heard me say to Mr Speaker earlier that the dispute that has led to these threatened tariffs in 10 days’ time is a very long and complex one and is being governed by the investigations at the WTO. It is regrettable, although we accept it, that we were found not to be in compliance and the WTO has given the United States permission to go down this route.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about our belief that we are now completely compliant and have taken the remedial measures necessary to bring ourselves into compliance in this dispute. We hope that that will happen within the next couple of months. We are pressing the WTO for an early decision on that, because the evidence base on this stuff is incredibly important, particularly in our conversations with the United States.

I am anxious this afternoon to dial down the atmosphere and not engage in deep personal attacks on people in other countries. The hon. Gentleman was very restrained, and rightly so, in what he said. We want to keep it on the issues. We think that the proposed tariff is unfair, wrong and unjust, and if we can demonstrate that we are now in compliance in this very long-running dispute and have taken the necessary measures, I hope that we can engage calmly with the United States.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the reasons why the United Kingdom is so internationally necessary, and why our taking up our position again in the WTO when we leave the EU is a good thing and is widely welcomed internationally, is that we believe in the international rules-based order. We believe that any fair, reasoned, rational observer who looks at this will conclude that these tariffs are unjust, unfair and wrong and are targeting people who have done absolutely nothing in terms of the dispute that has given birth to these retaliatory measures. I hope that, with constructive engagement and calm dialogue, we may persuade the United States to think again.