Scotch whisky concerned about independence 'risks'

LONDON (AFP) - Scotch whisky makers expressed their concerns about the impact of Scottish independence for the first time on Friday, saying they needed an effective diplomatic network to promote sales.

The Scotch Whisky Association said it was seeking "reassurances" about the "risks" of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom following a referendum on September 18.

The SWA says whisky represents about 85 per cent of all Scottish food and drink exports, making it an economic jewel in the crown for a future independent Scotland.

The UK has some 270 diplomatic missions in 160-odd countries, whereas Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's nationalists, in their blueprint for independence, envisage a network of 70 to 90 "international offices" if Scotland goes it alone.

SWA chief executive David Frost said: "It is important that an independent Scotland gives the same kind of support to the industry and finds ways of doing it that are comparable to what we have now.

"We are concerned about the conditions in which we would be operating. We see some risks. We want reassurances. But are we going to be successful? Yes, you bet," he told the BBC.

Mr Frost made his intervention as the body said Scotch whisky exports dropped 0.3 per cent in 2013 to £4.26 billion (S$8.9).

In volume terms, exports increased three per cent to the equivalent of 1.23 billion bottles last year.

In a statement, Mr Frost said there were short-term economic "headwinds" due to trade barriers, while the industry was based upon investment and careful stewardship.

"As a former ambassador, I know that the industry also depends on strong political support from government, for example to influence EU negotiations on our behalf or to press other countries to allow better access to their markets," he added.

"Both the UK and Scottish governments have played an important role in this so far.

"Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, as an industry exporting to around 200 markets we will continue to need the backing of an effective diplomatic network with the necessary global reach, commercial expertise, and capacity to influence."

The SWA posted its best year yet in India, with exports up 12 per cent to £69 million.

However, in East Asia, direct exports to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all fell in value by between 13 per cent and 15 per cent. China fell out of the top 20 markets, with direct exports declining nearly 30 per cent to £51 million.

The United States, France, Singapore, Spain, Germany and South Africa were the biggest Scotch export markets by value in 2013.

A poll for Scotland's Daily Record newspaper published on Thursday showed 47 per cent were planning to vote 'No' and 37 per cent were planning to vote 'Yes' to independence.

Survation polled 1,002 people between April 4 and 7.