KAREN Betts enjoyed a 16-year career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before joining the Scotch Whisky Association as CEO in 2017. It’s a career in diplomacy that offers the perfect credentials for her new role.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, she told host Donald Martin, editor of The Herald and Herald On Sunday: “It’s certainly a really useful background. The skills I use now are similar to those I used as a diplomat and as an ambassador.

“I represent the industry in public and I represent it to government. I engage with governments on policy issues or policy problems – like the one we’ve had with US tariffs recently.

“I understand how governments operate, how they make decisions, which is really important for an export industry like ours. We export to 180 countries around the world. Understanding how their governments will operate, how trade with those countries will operate and what we do when things go wrong or don’t go smoothly is obviously really important to the industry.”

If she had a magic wand Ms Betts admits there’s nothing she’d wish for to promote whisky around the globe.

“Our companies are extremely good at promotion. It’s one of the reasons why the industry is so successful. They are very good at understanding and working within the cultures where they’re selling and it becomes very culturally specific in some ways.

“I find it fascinating in China you’ll be offered green tea with your whisky. In Japan you’re very likely to drink it as a high ball with soda. In Spain, you may well be offered Coca-Cola with it.

“So there’s no way I could second-guess our companies on how they’ve made whisky such a successful export. It’s superbly marketed. It’s also a brilliant product. It is consistently high quality. Everybody knows the best whisky you can buy is from Scotland... and only from Scotland.”

The pandemic and Brexit have affected many industries and Ms Betts acknowledges whisky is no exception.

“2020 was a tough year for the industry. We were grappling with the closure of the hospitality industry around the world and global travel retail. That’s duty free to you and me: if global travel retail was an export market, it would be our biggest. Sales and export in airports are really important to us.

“We also we had the problem of US tariffs last year. So in 2020, our global exports fell by nearly a quarter. We lost about 10 years of growth and for an industry that had been growing on average over the past 10 years 5% a year, that was significant.”

As much of the world, though not all, slowly emerges from the Covid crisis, the industry is focused on recovery.

“At the Scotch Whisky Association we’re doing what we always do to remove trade barriers. We just got a suspension in the US tariffs, which was really important to us.

“We’re talking to the UK Government about the deal they’re negotiating with Australia and the trade talks they’re having with India. So there are lots of promising things on the horizon that could help with the recovery.

“We will be focused on getting our production back up to where it is, getting our investments going again.

“We were significantly investing for future growth before the pandemic. We will be getting back to that now then doing everything we can to get the hospitality and tourism sectors back on their feet.

“Scotch whisky is important in tourism terms. Distilleries are now the third, collectively, most visited tourist attraction in Scotland.”