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International trade: Fears US tariffs on Scotch whisky may continue for ‘many more months’

President Donald Trump.

Trade bosses are becoming increasingly pessimistic that punitive US tariffs on Scotch whisky will be lifted this year, we can reveal.

President Donald Trump imposed 25% tariffs on a number of British exports in October last year as retaliation for the EU’s illegal subsidies to plane-maker Airbus.

In August the tariff, which has so far cost the sector well over £350 million, was renewed for another 180 days.

Industry leaders have been lobbying hard on both sides of the Atlantic over the summer for a resolution, but with the US presidential election now on the horizon talks are stalling.

A senior government source told us the UK was “pushing the case very, very hard”, but could not guarantee a resolution any time soon.

“We can’t make any promises,” they said.

We understand that high-level talks between UK and US officials are to continue in the coming weeks.

But, if the talks do not yield any relief, there is an expectation that the Department for Business and Treasury will step in to offer the industry some support.

“It’s very much on everybody’s radar,” a source told us.

Prime minister taking ‘robust line’

Boris Johnson told MPs earlier this week he would continue to take a “robust line” with the US and “fight” to get the tariffs removed.

He said: “I have raised this several times with President Trump and others in the US administration.

“We will continue to take a very robust line. It cannot be right that American consumers should continue to pay over the odds for Scotch, or that this discrimination should continue.

“We will fight it every step of the way.”

Boris Johnson with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, right.

Industry body the Scotch Whisky Association warned lost exports could run into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds while waiting to restart talks with the next US administration.

Earlier this year SWA boss Karen Betts accused ministers of being “inexplicably slow” in trying to resolve the dispute.

Push for ‘urgent removal’ of US tariffs

An SWA spokesman said: “The Scotch Whisky industry continues to push for the urgent removal of tariffs on our products. The 25% tariff on single malt Scotch whisky is costing the industry £30 million in exports to the US every month.

“We welcome the UK Government’s commitment now to work constructively with the US Government to get tariffs resolved quickly and directly.

“However, if the UK Government cannot resolve this before the US elections, it could be many more months before the next US administration returns to the issue, which could escalate further in that period, compounding the damage to our industry.”

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