Punitive US import tariffs on Scotch whisky imports will be a “jobs killer” in an industry that supports tens of thousands of livelihoods, a union leader has warned.
And Keir Greenaway, the GMB’s Scotland organiser, urged UK Government ministers to “get in the game” to defend the sector, which, along with others important to the north and north-east economies, is being hit by a trade spat between the States and the European Union.
The GMB predicts “dire consequences” for distillers if the US adds more products to a list of EU goods it has already slapped 25% import tariffs on. And it claims there will be “no winners” on either side of the Atlantic if the dispute continues.
Last October, following a World Trade Organisation (WTO), ruling the US imposed 25% tariffs on a range of luxury goods, including single malt whisky, shortbread and cashmere products, exported from the EU. The move was part of an ongoing dispute between the US and EU over subsidies for the aircraft manufacturing industry.
Now, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) is considering whether it will introduce additional tariffs, covering other spirits, including blended Scotch, gin and vodka, as it reviews the action taken by the WTO in the dispute.
Mr Greenaway’s warning came as the GMB submitted its response to the USTR’s consultation.
He said: “Trump’s tariffs will be a jobs killer on both sides of the Atlantic, there are no winners here, while our members can’t afford to wait for Boris Johnson to phone a friend or let the chips fall where they may in future trade negotiations.
“Today we can measure the impact on sales and profits but without intervention that could quickly turn to jobs and communities – but it seems the UK Government thinks this is some kind of idyllic tartan-dressed industry to be taken for granted when nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr Greenaway continued: “Ministers need to get in the game because this is a real jobs powerhouse supporting tens of thousands of livelihoods, from rural distilleries in the Highlands and Islands to labour intensive bottling operations in Fife and the West.
“Scotland cannot do without a thriving whisky and spirits sector but if it’s to support our post-Covid recovery and post-Brexit future then we need to stand up to Trump and end these tariffs, and if the UK Government isn’t prepared to do this then we’ll do it ourselves.”
Trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has said the 25% tariff on single malt imports to the US has already caused a 30% drop in exports, representing losses of around £30million-a-month to the industry.
Just a few days ago, Boris Johnson vowed to fight the tariffs that threaten Scottish jobs as he pledged to work for a free trade deal with the US.
The prime minister said the US tariffs were “unjustified”, as were those being imposed on oatcakes, shortbread and cashmere.
A Department for International Trade spokeswoman said:”“We have been clear that resorting to tariffs is in nobody’s interests.
“The US are our single biggest trading partner and a free trade deal with the US will provide a platform on which British business can flourish.
“The UK Government is taking a robust line with the US, EU and European partners to support a negotiated settlement.
“We’re determined to protect British interests and we have raised the issue at the highest levels of the US administration, including with the President.
“We are listening carefully to the concerns of business across the nation to understand how government can best support UK industry – including Scottish brands, with which we work regularly.”