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EU-US trade war could ‘devastate’ Irish whiskey industry

A trade war between the EU and US could have “serious negative consequences” on the Irish whiskey industry, a trade body has warned.

The US market is “of critical importance” to the Irish whiskey industry

Speaking at an all-island Irish whiskey industry gathering at Bushmills Distillery on Friday (25 May), William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA), said the EU-US trade war could “devastate” the sector.

If the current temporary exclusion of EU steel and aluminium from US tariffs expires on 1 June, the EU has threatened to impose 25% tariffs on US products, including Bourbon and American whiskey. These tariffs could come into effect as early as 20 June.

Approximately half of all Irish whiskey is sold in the US, or 59% of the value of Irish whiskey exports, according to Central Statistics Office figures cited by the IWA.

Distilled Spirits Council data shows that over 4.2 million nine-litre cases of Irish whiskey were sold in the US last year, generating US$897 million in revenues for distillers.

Lavelle added that the US market is “of critical importance” and will “remain so well into the future”.

He said: “If the EU imposes tariffs on American Bourbon and whiskey, Washington may respond in kind and impose tariffs on European whiskey exports, including Irish whiskey. Obviously this would have serious negative consequences for us, especially for the smaller, independent distilleries that have opened up in recent years.

“Higher costs of trade, and a reluctance among American businesses and consumers to buy more expensive Irish whiskey, will hamper growth and potentially put many Irish distilleries into financial jeopardy.

“Irish whiskey is undergoing a renaissance. This has yielded, and continues to yield, fantastic results for the wider Irish drinks industry, for small business, for tourism, and for Government revenue. Today, we are urging the EU to continue negotiating a peaceful solution to the tariff problem, and to avoid at all costs forcing small businesses in Ireland and around Europe into extremely difficult circumstances.”

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