SCOTCH whisky exports climbed to a fresh record last year, the latest figures reveal, prompting the sector’s trade body to highlight again the importance of avoiding a no-deal Brexit to the industry’s future health.

Exports of Scotch climbed by 7.8 per cent to £4.697 billion last year. And the US became the first-ever £1 billion export market for the sector, in terms of annual sales, according to an analysis of HM Revenue & Customs figures published yesterday by the Scotch Whisky Association.

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However, the European Union remained the biggest market for Scotch exports among global regions.

Exports of Scotch to the EU increased by 1.4% to £1.392bn last year, accounting for 30% of the total in value terms. Sales of Scotch to North America jumped by 12.9% to £1.26bn ¬- making up 27% of the total - driven by a 12.8% jump in exports to the US to nearly £1.04bn.

SWA chief executive Karen Betts said: “We also want to see the UK and EU agree to an open and positive future relationship, which delivers frictionless trade with the EU, and the UK to secure ambitious trading relationships with key markets around the world.”

She added: “In that context, it is important to our industry, as to many others, that the UK does not leave the EU without a deal at the end of March. We are urging the Government and Parliamentarians to work together constructively and pragmatically to ensure that an agreement is reached as quickly as possible.”

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Her comments came as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned, at a Financial Times event yesterday, that a no-deal, no-transition Brexit would be an “economic shock” for the UK.

Fears among businesses of a no-deal exit on March 29 have mounted in recent weeks.

Jamie Stone MP, Scottish Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “While it is excellent that exports of whisky are at a record high, this analysis shows how important frictionless trade with the EU is to Scotland.

“We will not be able to guarantee continued growth in this market if we create barriers with our largest Scotch whisky export partner. Brexit in any form, and particularly if we crash out of the EU without a deal, will be incredibly damaging to the Scotch whisky market and to Scottish industry.”

He added that the best way of preventing this damage was “through a People’s Vote with the option to stay in the EU”.

The US has, by country, long been the biggest single market for Scotch exports in value terms.

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France remains the biggest overseas market for Scotch by volume. Scotch whisky exports to France rose by 5.3% last year to the equivalent of 187.8 million, 70 centilitre bottles.

In total, Scotch whisky exports rose by 3.6% in volume terms last year to the equivalent of 1.276 billion, 70cl bottles.

France remained the second-biggest market for Scotch, by value, last year. Exports to France rose by 2% to £442.1m.

Exports to Singapore, a distribution hub for Asian markets including China, increased by 10% to £319.9m in 2018.

Germany was the fourth-largest export market for Scotch by value last year. Exports to Germany dipped by 5.3% to £173.9m.

Exports to Spain, the fifth-largest market, fell by 2.6% to £170.4m.

However, exports to Taiwan, which has long been a key market for Scotch with an appetite among the east Asian island democracy’s consumers for single malts, rose by 5% to £168.4m. The United Arab Emirates was the seventh-largest market for Scotch last year. Exports to the UAE climbed by 13.2% to £146.9m.

Exports of Scotch to India, the eighth-biggest market for Scotch last year by value, jumped by 34.1% to £138.8m. In volume terms, exports to India rose by 25.9% to the equivalent of 112.6 million, 70cl bottles in 2018. India was the third-biggest market for Scotch in volume terms last year, behind France and the US.