The Scotch Whisky industry is working together to address challenges posed by Brexit and to maintain the recent growth in the sector.

At the annual Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) conference this week delegates heard speeches from SWA chief executive Karen Betts, as well as Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.

Scotch Whisky is the UK’s largest food and drink export, accounting for 20% of all food and drink exports. Last year, 39 bottles per second were shipped overseas totaling an export value of £4.37 billion.

Betts said: “Scotch Whisky is a world-class product with world-wide reach.

“Scotch Whisky is doing well, with exports growing and new investment going into all aspects of the industry. In the 12 months since our last conference, seven new Scotch Whisky distilleries have opened and, over the last five years, more than half a billion pounds has been invested in the industry, in everything from distilling to tourism. This is great news for growth in our sector and for the jobs and communities that the industry supports.

“But Brexit poses challenges for the industry, and is likely to be disruptive. We want to continue to be able to export Scotch Whisky to Europe and the rest of the world with a minimum additional cost and complexity, and so our industry can emerge from Brexit in growth.

“This means zero tariffs, a minimum of regulatory divergence and legal protection in the EU But it also means continued access to the benefits of EU trade deals with third countries, including South Korea and Columbia. We calculate the loss of these trade benefits would cost the industry over £50 million annually in tariffs alone.

“We continue to urge the UK government to swiftly put in place agreements with those third countries so that Scotch can continue to flourish post-Brexit. And to work on advantageous trade deals with our growth markets, such as India, China and Brazil to ensure the sector continues to prosper.”

Swinney MSP added: “The Scottish Government welcomes the hard work of the industry to deliver an excellent performance in 2017 when Scotch exports were valued at approximately £4.36 billion. The value of Scotch Whisky exports from the UK was up nine percent from 2016 and Scotch Whisky accounted for around 20 percent of all UK food and drink exports.

“Rightly there is a growing confidence within the sector, with investments being made by established distilleries, as well as a high number of new sites being built across the country. This is great news for Scotland and as I go around the country, what strikes me is the passion, and commitment of those that work in the industry to produce and promote a high-quality product that is made unique by its location, and this is exactly what makes Scotch Whisky so special.

“Whisky is a product shaped by its environment and while steeped in tradition, the industry is not afraid to be dynamic and innovative. I am confident that there is opportunity for further growth and co-operation going forward, and that by working together we can make sure that the right skills are in place to ensure that the sector continues to go from strength to strength.”