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Drop ‘damaging’ bourbon tariffs, urge UK trade groups

Punitive tariffs on imports of bourbon and US whiskies in the UK should be scrapped, and any new levies on US wines will lead to job losses, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association has said in its response to a government consultation.

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has issued a strongly worded response to the UK government’s consultation on bourbon tariffs, and levies imposed on US whiskies in general.

UK officials are reviewing which products should be targeted as part of a long-running trade dispute concerning American tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which originated at EU level.

There have been additional 25% tariffs on imports of US bourbon and whiskies since June 2018, and the WSTA said the annual value of US whiskey imports has halved since 2017.

While the UK government has said it primarily wants to ‘de-escalate’ the situation and reach a deal, it has also sought comments on how to ‘rebalance’ any retaliatory measures in favour of British interests following Brexit.

The WSTA said this week, ‘UK importers, the hospitality sector and in turn, UK bourbon fans, have paid an extra £55m in retaliatory tariff since duties came into effect.’

A trade group known as the ‘Bourbon Alliance’, and including distillers, retailers, suppliers and hospitality venues, has also led calls for the tariffs to be scrapped.

Dawn Davies MW, head buyer at Speciality Drinks, said this week, ‘In the UK we have always had a love affair with American Whiskey and never more so than now. The distilling scene in the USA has never been more exciting and we in the UK are not able to tap into this because we are held back by these tariffs.’

The WSTA also expressed concern that US wine imports appeared on a list of potential targets for UK retaliatory tariffs.

Around one in 10 bottles of imported wine in the UK come from the US, although there is also a considerable amount of US wine shipped in bulk for bottling on arrival.

‘A new tariff on US wines would lead to job losses, a significant fall in Exchequer revenue and, ultimately, hurt UK wine consumers,’ said the WSTA.

There have been signs of warmer trading relations between the president Biden-led US administration and both the EU and UK so far in 2021 – as shown by the suspension of US import tariffs on wine and Scotch whisky within the Airbus-Boeing trade dispute.

The WSTA said it wanted to see a return to the days of ‘zero for zero’ trading.

Its CEO, Miles Beale, said, ‘US whiskies have paid more than their fair share of tariff, and in a year when the hospitality industry has seen significant closures, it’s time we got back to trade and not tariffs with our close friends across the pond.

‘The WSTA supports the removal of tariffs on all wines and spirits with immediate effect.’

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