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OPINION: Scotch whisky tariff dispute must be resolved quickly to allow US and UK special relationship to flourish

There is concern about the impact of US whisky tariffs.

The United Kingdom and the United States are finally positioned with the rare opportunity to deepen their special relationship and reach their full potential with a robust free trade agreement.

As the United Kingdom progresses with its departure from the European Union, the UK’s recent decision on Huawei and many more changes ahead will serve as indicators that we are committed to make the relationship between the US and the UK one of the strongest in the world.

The key hurdle to developing this deeply rooted partnership is the negotiation of a comprehensive free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, publicly stated his aim to realise the full potential of the deal and surpass the current value of the trade relationship, which is more than 300 billion dollars annually.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

We are encouraged by the reports that our two lead negotiators – Bob Lighthizer, the US trade representative and the UK’s Trade Secretary, Liz Truss – are working closely and collegially to hammer out a deal by the end of the year. 

Exports of UK products such as Scotch whisky have fallen by 30 per cent and US whisky distillers’ exports have fallen by a third. As a result, the industry in both countries is experiencing loss of jobs and business. At a time when a pandemic is severely hurting economies and individuals all around the world, this trade dispute is doing the same.”

Our greatest concern, however, is one issue that should be resolved expeditiously, separately and apart from the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) discussions.

Due to the US-EU trade dispute on civil aircraft (Boeing/Airbus) subsidies, retaliatory tariffs were imposed by both the United States and the EU. Since then, exports of UK products such as Scotch whisky have fallen by 30 per cent and US whisky distillers’ exports have fallen by a third. As a result, the industry in both countries is experiencing loss of jobs and business. At a time when a pandemic is severely hurting economies and individuals all around the world, this trade dispute is doing the same.

Small areas like Moray, Scotland, are facing additional hardship that is particularly unfair.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing economic hardship and suffering across the globe. Thanks to this trade dispute, small areas like Moray, Scotland, are facing additional hardship that is particularly unfair. The main industry that provides this locality the bulk of its livelihood is the production of Scotch whisky, shortbread, and cashmere, all of which are presently subject to retaliatory tariffs.

As the heat of the EU and US trade dispute increases, US and UK spirits manufacturers are getting caught in the crossfire. The retaliatory tariffs from the US are intended to put pressure on the EU amid the ongoing aircraft dispute, and bureaucrats in Brussels have made it clear they have no interest in protecting the spirit industry. This has resulted in excessive burdens during an already difficult time and put the US-UK trade agreement in jeopardy.

The United States has far more to gain from a future Free Trade Agreement with the UK than it does maintaining tariffs on spirits, especially with the UK’s departure from the EU only five months away. We urge Ambassador Lighthizer and Secretary Truss to bilaterally negotiate on the very important Boeing/Airbus dispute and the retaliatory tariffs on spirits.

Liz Truss MP.

The uniquely special US/UK relationship provides the perfect trade environment and as we fight the global Covid-19 pandemic, the need to protect and create jobs in both the United States and the United Kingdom demands an agreement.

Ambassador Lighthizer and his United States Trade Representative (USTR) team are due to publish an updated review on tariffs on August 12. This could be the next step in making the Washington-London relationship more special as the United Kingdom readies itself for life beyond the EU. There are fears and rumours that tariffs on spirits could be increased to 100 per cent and extended to blended whisky, gin, and vodka. To build confidence as we deal with the challenges of the FTA, discussion of such high tariffs should be abandoned.  This will only hurt both US and UK business and do nothing to address the EU for their illegal subsidies of Airbus or systemically change their behaviour. Brussels will not act in favour of jobs in Scotland as the UK leaves the EU.


  • Douglas Ross is MP for Moray and leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Republican Congressman George Holding represents North Carolina’s 2nd district.

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