THE Scotch whisky industry has this week raised a glass to celebrate a slowing in the rate of decline of its exports.

It is always easy to be sceptical about companies or industries declaring some kind of victory when the pace of decline eases. After all, a fall is a fall.

However, when such a deceleration in the rate of decline is achieved in a very tough market-place, there is certainly justification for emotions that are a little bit more upbeat than just plain old relief.

That said, the shallower drop will probably come as a relief as well to Scotch whisky distillers, which have been investing heavily to increase capacity to meet anticipated future demand from around the world.

The slowing of the rate of decline of Scotch whisky exports has been achieved against a backdrop of a weakening global economic growth outlook, with expansion in the likes of China slowing fast and many developed economies toiling.

And we should not forget the extent to which exports of Scotch surged before their recent fall.

We should certainly celebrate all achievements of the Scotch whisky industry. Given that Scotch can only be produced in Scotland, and it usually makes sense to bottle it here, much of the economic benefit from the industry is reaped at home, in contrast to the likes of all those wind turbines that are made abroad.

When the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) announced in April 2013 that the industry’s exports had hit a record £4.27 billion in 2012, it pointed out this represented an increase of 87 per cent over a period of just 10 years. In 2002, Scotch whisky exports had totalled about £2.3bn.

Since 2012, we have had two full years in which Scotch whisky exports have fallen. The overall value of Scotch exports in 2014, at £3.95bn, was down seven per cent on 2013. The value of Scotch exports in 2013, at £4.26bn, had been down about £14 million, just 0.3 per cent, from the record £4.27bn achieved in 2012.

We should, like the SWA this week, probably take heart from the fact that the value of Scotch exports in the first half of this year, at £1.7bn, was down by only three per cent on the same period of 2014. In the first half of last year, the value of Scotch whisky exports had been down by 11 per cent on the same period of 2013, the SWA noted.

And, as we contemplate the position of the Scotch whisky industry, it is well worth contrasting the annual export figure of £3.95bn for 2014 with the £2.3bn total for 2002.

This is an industry that has done extremely well.

A visit last year to Taiwan, which has for good reason been one of the industry’s favourite markets for a long time, underlined the huge prices that discerning consumers are willing to pay for super-premium Scotch whisky.

The glossy Sky Boutique in-flight shopping magazine of the Taiwan-based China Airlines included a 70-centilitre bottle of The Macallan Oscuro single malt, distilled by Glasgow-based Edrington and produced in sherry-seasoned casks, at US$709, nearly £470 at current exchange rates.

Asked about Scotch, Vanessa YP Shih, Taiwan vice-minister for foreign affairs, replied enthusiastically: “I drink whisky. I love whisky. I understand we are a very important export market for single malt whisky.”

She is absolutely right about the importance of Taiwan as a Scotch market. In 2014, Scotch exports to Taiwan leapt by 36 per cent to £197m.

Taiwan was the fourth-largest export market by value for Scotch in the first half of this year. Scotch exports to Taiwan totalled £83.5m. This was down by 8.2 per cent on the previous first half, but this should be put in the context of the leap in exports to Taiwan in 2014.

The US remains the largest market for Scotch whisky exports by value. Exports to the US in the first half of this year totalled £326.5m, down only 0.4 per cent on the same period of 2014. Scotch whisky distillers have enjoyed great success in the US market in recent years, largely shrugging off what were grim economic conditions in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The Scotch whisky industry employs around 10,000 people directly in Scotland. It supports a total of 40,000 jobs across the UK, including the 10,000 direct employees.

And the SWA puts the industry’s total annual contribution to the Scottish economy at £4.69bn.

But what is perhaps even more encouraging is that the Scotch whisky industry has so many privately-owned companies with the type of long-term view that allows the sector to thrive, including Famous Grouse and Macallan owner Edrington and William Grant.

This means the industry should be in good hands for many decades to come.

Such a long-term view is often sadly lacking in so many companies in so many sectors these days. Thinking for the long term is crucial for sustainable success, and companies that do so should ultimately reap far greater rewards.

In the case of Edrington, given its ownership by The Robertson Trust, long-term success has generated many millions of pounds for charitable causes.

The success of smaller players in the Scotch whisky sector, including BenRiach and Ian Macleod Distillers, is also to be celebrated. And we should toast the new players, among them Isle of Harris Distillers.

It is also worth emphasising that Scotch whisky operations in overseas hands have also thrived.

A visit to Japan some years ago highlighted the long-term approach of the privately-owned Suntory, owner of Morrison Bowmore.

Suntory, helped by its experience of the Scotch whisky industry, has also enjoyed great success with its Yamazaki distillery, between the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto and the city of Osaka.

Pernod Ricard has been investing heavily in the future of its Chivas Brothers Scotch whisky business.

This is an industry with long lead times, in terms of the maturation process. It is often compared with a supertanker, in terms of the need to make decisions on the course being taken well in advance. Thankfully, the supertanker is being steered by some serious long-term players.

A three per cent year-on-year fall in Scotch exports in the first half seems pretty good going, given the global backdrop.

And hopefully the SWA’s “return to growth on horizon” headline on its press release will prove prescient.