Karen BettsScotch whisky chief Karen Betts will today warn the UK government not to take the industry for granted in its Brexit negotiations.

Mrs Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, will tell a gathering of industry leaders that now more than ever the industry and government need to collaborate.

She will urge trade negotiators to ensure a smooth transition with the EU and demand that non-EU markets are given “proper attention”.

Delegates attending a conference in Edinburgh expected to hear from one of Whitehall’s chief trade negotiators, Crawford Falconer, but he has been detained in London and has been replaced as a speaker by Department for International Trade director Edward Barker.

Mr Falconer has cut a controversial figure of late in his attempts to play a more prominent role in the Brexit talks. He has also been instrumental in pulling together a new ‘international trade profession’, drawing specialists from 11 departments to work on developing international trade negotiation skills in the civil service.

It was not clear if Mr Barker will give an update on these developments.

In an address to her members, Mrs Betts is expected to say: “In the last 20 years, Scotch whisky has doubled its export values, with steady growth of around 4% annually.  In 2017, that meant exports worth nearly £4.4 bn being sold in 180 markets.

“We are proud of our industry’s success and of our global reach, that we are intrepid internationalists and that Scotch travels so well. 

“But this is not taken for granted by the industry.  Our success is determinedly cultivated.  And nor should it be taken for granted by government.

“Countries need strong industries, strong employers, and strong and successful traders and exporters. 

“More than in recent memory, we now need a closer and different kind of collaboration with government, a deeper understanding on all sides, to ensure that the next 20 years see as much steady growth as the last 20 years.” 

On Brexit, she will urge government “to ensure that, after Brexit, we can trade as easily with Europe as we did as an EU member.”

A third of Scotch whisky exports go to Europe, an established, mature market for Scotch. 

“At a minimum, we want to see agreement on: zero tariffs, a minimum of regulatory divergence, and mutual recognition of geographical indications,” Mrs Betts will say.

“Alongside the UK government’s negotiations with the EU, we want proper attention to be given to non-EU markets.  How the UK trades with countries beyond the EU is, again, of key importance to our industry. 

“The EU currently has agreements in place with more than one hundred countries which govern trade, one way or another.  Twenty-four of these agreements are very important to Scotch whisky, such as the EU’s agreements with South Korea and Columbia. 

“The loss of these agreements would directly, negatively impact Scotch whisky.  So we are urging the UK government to swiftly put in place similar agreements with those twenty-four countries – on as good or better terms – to ensure Scotch can continue to be exported with a minimum of extra cost and complication.

“Beyond those twenty-four agreements, we are urging government to focus their efforts for future trade agreements on markets that are important for Scotch whisky’s growth. 

“Advantageous trade deals with emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil have the potential to boost the industry’s growth significantly, and are critical to us in the longer term.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney will also address the conference.