Scotland’s top two food and drink exports suffered a sharp slump in sales in 2020 as Covid-19 and a punitive US tariff hurt both national icons.
Global exports of whisky fell by more than £1.1 billion (23%) last year, badly affected by a 25% tax on sales in the US, trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed yesterday.
And official figures published by HM Revenue and Customs show exports of Scottish salmon also fell by 23%, to 72,155 tonnes, compared with 94,315t in 2019.
The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) said the pandemic had a “significant and damaging” effect on exports of the nation’s biggest food export.
Last night, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The latest statistics show just how damaging the coronavirus pandemic has been for overseas sales of Scottish food and drink, including farmed salmon – our most important food export.
“But it’s not the only issue the sector has had to deal with – Brexit has caused huge uncertainty and is having a catastrophic impact on Scottish seafood.”
The whisky export figures are the lowest they have been in a decade.
According to the SWA, the export value of Scotland’s national drink slumped to £3.8bn last year and volumes fell by 13% to the equivalent of 1.14 billion standard 70cl bottles.
The value and volume of exports to most of the top 10 markets fell as countries went into lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.
But it is the continued impact of tariffs on exports of single malts to the US – part of a tit-for-tat transatlantic row over aerospace subsidies – that has caused the most significant losses.
Whisky exports to the US fell by 32% last year, to £729 million, a loss of £340m compared to 2019 and accounting for around one-third of total global export losses.
These figures are a grim reminder of the challenges faced by distillers over the past year.”
Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association
The industry has repeated calls for more support for distillers in the UK Budget on March 3.
The SWA wants Chancellor Rishi Sunak to cut spirits duty to mitigate the “significant damage” being done to the industry.
Karen Betts, the group’s chief executive, said: “These figures are a grim reminder of the challenges faced by distillers over the past year, as exports stalled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and US tariffs.
“In effect, the industry lost 10 years of growth in 2020 and it’s going to take some time to build back to a position of strength.”
SSPO said the impact of the pandemic, which shut food service outlets around the world and greatly restricted air transport, hit distant markets for Scottish salmon the hardest.
Sales in China were down 76% by value, while sales to America suffered a slump of 42%.
Exports to the EU became more important last year, accounting for 69% of all global sales by volume and 64% by value, up from 56% and 52% respectively in 2019.
SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott said producers were confident exports would revive as markets open up and 2021 would be a good year for the sector.
But he warned the greater emphasis on sales to the EU had left producers more vulnerable to problems caused by Brexit.
He added: “Our members are suffering from the burden of excessive bureaucracy and red tape which is making it difficult for them to compete.”