SCOTCH whisky exports in the first half of this year were down marginally on the record level achieved in the opening six months of 2011, as sales to Spain tumbled but demand from the US continued to grow.

Figures published yesterday by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) showed exports in the six months to June 30 totalled £1.786 billion, falling just £12 mil-lion short of the £1.798bn figure for the first half of 2011.

The SWA said this represented a levelling off of the market, or a "steady" performance, after a period of rapid growth, noting the record exports achieved in the first half of last year had been essentially matched in the opening six months of 2012,

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The association also said that plans for major investment by key industry players, including Diageo and Pernod Ricard, signalled producers' confidence about future growth prospects.

The SWA meanwhile focused on the fact that Scotch whisky exports in the year to June 30 were up about 12% on the preceding 12 months, at around £4.22bn versus £3.77bn. It said Scotch continued to attract "younger, affluent consumers in newly emerging markets", with this trend expected to be maintained.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA, said: "Over the past year the value of Scotch whisky exports has continued to increase and we're delighted to build on our outstanding success in 2011 with 12% growth in the past 12 months. While there has been a levelling off in the first half of this year, the industry remains confident about the future.

"Recent announcements of investments in new distilleries and the expansion of existing facilities demonstrate the level of confidence producers have in future growth opportunities."

Exports to the US, the largest export market for Scotch whisky, totalled £303.6m in the first half. This was up 13% on the figure of £267.6m for the opening six months of 2011. First-half exports to Spain, however, fell by 24% from £97.1m to £74m as the eurozone debt crisis took its toll.

However, first-half exports to France, the second-largest overseas market for Scotch, fell by 14% from £219.8m to £188m.

A spokeswoman for the SWA cited a 15% hike in tax on Scotch whisky in France which had come into effect at the start of this year. She noted that people in France would have stocked up ahead of the increase in duty.

First-half Scotch whisky exports to Brazil fell by 22% to £35m. However, the figure of £44.8m for the first half of last year had been up 56% on the opening six months of 2010.

The latest figures show first-half exports to Latvia were up 77% at £32m and sales to Estonia were up by 35% to £24.8m, with those to China up 1.6% to £31m.