By Scott Wright

THE Scotch whisky industry has warned the imposition of import tariffs in the US, its most valuable market, remains “very concerning”, as new figures reveal a rise in the value of global exports.

Whisky exports grew by 4.4 per cent in value to reach £4.91 billion in 2019, driven by increasing demand in Asia and Africa, according to statistics compiled by HMRC and released by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

The value of exports increased in more than 100 markets (106), the figures show, with the value of whisky sold to Asia and Africa growing by 9.8 per cent and 11.3%.

READ MORE: Distillers vent fury at politicians on US tax

The rise in the value of exports came as the overall number of 70cl bottles exported by distillers increased by 2.4% to 1.31 billion.

But while the SWA said the figures “underscore the global reach of Scotch whisky”, it sounded alarm bells over new trade barriers facing exporters to the US.

Scotch whisky exports to the US plunged by as much as 25 per cent in the fourth quarter, which followed the introduction of a 25% import tariffs on single malt Scotch whisky and Scotch whisky liqueur.

The Trump administration brought in the tax in October in retaliation to subsidies given by the European Union (EU) to Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer.

READ MORE: Trump tariffs delay Scotch distiller's US expansion

Whisky exports to the US increased by 2.7% in value to £1.07bn in 2019, underlining its status as the industry’s most lucrative market. But the volume of bottles shipped across the Atlantic dropped by 7% to 127 million 70cl bottles, following a sharp decline in the fourth quarter.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said the tariffs are “hitting producers hard, particularly small distillers”.

Ms Betts added: “Some are now asking themselves how they can continue exporting to the US, whether they can build up alternative markets, which is not something that can be done quickly, and if not how their businesses will cope.

"We are continuing to press the UK Government to put in place a package of support for distillers to help mitigate the impact of tariffs, including a cut in excise duty in next month’s budget which would allow distillers to re-invest in the UK market while sales are under pressure in the US.”

In December, industry veteran Billy Walker slammed politicians at Scottish and UK level for not doing enough to reverse the US tariffs. Kingsbarns Distillery said the tariffs led it to delay the launch of its first malt in the US.

Meanwhile, asked whether trade with China has been affected by the spread of the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said: "The SWA are in regular contact with trade officials in China and share guidance with our member companies as appropriate."