Twenty Scotch whisky firms issue joint warning US tariffs will cause 'irreparable damage'  

Bottles of Scotch whisky are displayed for sale in a grocery chain on October 3, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
Bottles of Scotch whisky are displayed for sale in a grocery chain on October 3, 2019 in Los Angeles, California Credit: Getty Images North America

Twenty Scotch whisky companies have joined forced to warn that tariffs being imposed by Donald Trump's administration next week will cut their US exports by a fifth and cause "irreparable damage".

In a letter to the Telegraph, the distillery chiefs said the move threatens to cost them around £84 million a year in lost sales in single malts and poses a risk to thousands of jobs.

They said their industry has "nothing to do" with the dispute over aircraft subsidies that triggered the trade war, but "we will be paying over 60 per cent of the UK's tariff liabilities."

In a plea to the UK Government to press the EU and US to "de-escalate the dispute", they warned their "craft industry" would suffer for years to come if ministers do not act.

Among the signatories to the letter are Ewen Mackintosh, managing director of Gordon and MacPhail, and Stephen Bremner, who holds the same position for the Tomatin distillery group near Inverness.

They also include John Grant, chairman of Glenfarclas distillery in Ballindalloch in the Spey Valley, and Kieran Healey-Ryder global head of digital and communications for whisky giant Whyte and Mackay.

Donald Trump's administration has imposed tariffs on Scotch whisky Credit: Bloomberg

Their letter comes after Boris Johnson lobbied Mr Trump to scrap the 25 per cent tariff on single malt in a phone call on Wednesday evening.

His intervention came after David Mundell, the former Scottish Secretary, urged the Prime Minister to exploit his friendship with Mr Trump and the US President's Scottish heritage to try and get him to change his mind.

Mr Mundell warned the Commons this week 3,000 jobs could be lost if the Trump administration presses ahead. He noted that French brandy and cognac are not affected by the penalties.

The exchanges in the Commons came after the World Trade Organisation last week gave the US the green light to impose tariffs on up to $7.5 billion (£6.1 billion) of goods from the EU in retaliation over European subsidies given to the aviation giant Airbus.

In their letter, the whisky companies said they are "deeply concerned" about the move as the US is the industry's single largest export market where there have been no tariffs for 25 years.

"We will not be able to protect our loyal consumers in the US for long.  We expect to have to raise prices. Single Malts will become less competitive and we will lose market share that has taken us years to build up," they said.

"We estimate that imports to the US will fall by around 20 per cent in a year (a loss of around $103m in value)."

They said their distilleries, bottling halls and export operations employ thousands of people "the length and breadth of Scotland", and their supply chain thousands more, but the tariffs put these at risk.

In a direct warning to ministers, they concluded: "Not to act will cause our craft industry – and a key part of Scotland’s heritage – irreparable damage in the months and years ahead."

In addition to Mr Johnson's phone call with Mr Trump, Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, has raised the issue several times with Robert Lighthizer, the US Trade Representative.

A UK Government spokesman said: "The whisky industry is a cornerstone of Scotland’s economy, employing around 11,000 people, many in rural areas.  

“We have been clear that resorting to tariffs is not in the interests of the UK, EU or US. The UK Government is working closely with the US, EU and European partners to support a negotiated settlement and avoid these tariffs coming into force."