US hints at return to zero tariffs for Scotch

17th December, 2020 by Melita Kiely

US trade representative Robert Lighthizer has indicated that the outgoing US administration could agree a “mini deal” with the UK, which would ease punitive tariffs on single malt Scotch whisky.

Scotch Masters

The SWA said the possibility of a “mini deal” was “encouraging”

In a televised interview with the BBC, Lighthizer said: “It’s extremely likely that we have an FTA, free-trade agreement, with the United Kingdom before long.”

Asked about lowering tariffs on certain products including Scotch whisky, Lighthizer said: “We have the advantage in that both the US and the UK – particularly the current government of the UK – are not big subsidisers, where some other countries are more inclined to subsidise. So it would be helpful if we could come to some kind of agreement.

He added: “We are in discussions, we’ll see how that works out.”

Trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said it was “encouraging” to hear Lighthizer indicate that a UK-US ‘mini deal’ could be achieved to remove Scotch whisky tariffs.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said: “These tariffs have done enormous damage to Scotch whisky over the last 14 months – with the industry losing over £400m [US$545m] in exports, and counting.

“Secretary of state Liz Truss’s decision last week to suspend tariffs on US products in the Airbus/Boeing dispute is an important step forward, and a strong signal of the UK’s willingness to agree a resolution. We would now like to see the US reciprocate by suspending tariffs.

“Suspension on both sides would, we believe, create a positive environment for intensified settlement talks to take place. A settlement would enable everyone – aircraft manufacturers, Scotch whisky and other industries caught up in this – to focus on economic recovery rather than losing revenue to punitive tariffs.

“Time is of the essence – ambassador Lighthizer was very clear about that in his interview. The US and UK governments must now work hard to find a final settlement to Airbus/Boeing and steel and aluminium disputes, and bring about the rapid return of tariff-free trans-Atlantic trade in whiskies.”

Outgoing US president Donald Trump locked the US in various trade wars in 2018 after imposing 25% and 10% tariffs on steel and aluminium imports respectively, effective from 1 June 2018.

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