Alarm voiced over US whisky tariff impact on Kintyre distilleries

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A Campbeltown distiller says that plans by the United States to slap tariffs of 25 per cent on imports of Scottish malt whisky later this month could have ‘serious consequences’ for the company.

The move by the US, which comes as part of its dispute with the EU over subsidies for airliners, has been met with concern and disappointment right across Kintyre and Argyll.

Ranald Watson, group director of sales and marketing with J and A Mitchell and Co Ltd, which owns Springbank and its sister distillery Glengyle in Campbeltown, told the Courier: ‘As things currently stand, the USA is the biggest single export market for Springbank and Glengyle.

‘With that in mind, any tariff or restriction on trade has potentially serious consequences for our company.

‘While we are in the advantageous position of worldwide demand for our whiskies currently exceeding our supply capabilities, a 25 per cent tariff is so high that it will seriously threaten our ability to be competitive in the US market.

‘There is an explosion of small, craft whisky distilleries in the USA and, while their product is quite different to Scotch whisky, such a large hike in single malt prices, which we will inevitably have to pass on to the consumer in some way, will make those domestic whiskies even more attractive price-wise.

‘As one of Scotland’s smallest producers of single malt, we are likely to be disproportionately affected by this tariff as we do not have the ability to absorb the cost in the way the larger multinational companies in the Scotch whisky industry may be able to.

‘We just have to hope that our loyal Springbank and Kilkerran drinkers will stick with us rather than being put off by price increases which are driven purely by politics.’

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said he is ‘alarmed’ that such trade dispute could hit communities in places such as Kintyre very hard.

‘It’s a bitter irony that an argument between the European Union and the United States about subsidies for airliners, should embroil the malt whisky industry,’ he said.

‘EU trade negotiators need to get back into talks with their American counterparts and sort this dispute out before it does any more harm.’

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, added: ‘This is a huge blow to the Scotch whisky industry. The US is our largest and most valuable single market, and over £1 billion of Scotch whisky was exported there last year.

‘The tariff will put our competitiveness and Scotch whisky’s market share at risk. We expect to see a negative impact on investment and job creation in Scotland, and longer term impacts on productivity and growth across the industry and our supply chain.’