Credit: Tom Richardson

Scotch whisky exports have fallen at the fastest rate since 1998

Chinese austerity and changing American tastes are hitting the industry hard.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2015

As though a major slump in oil prices wasn't bad enough news for Scotland, it seems now its second biggest export is failing to bring in as much as it used to as well. Exports of Scotch whisky slumped 7% in 2014 to £3.9bn, the fastest decline in 16 years, according to figures from the Scotch Whisky Association.

Much of the blame for this seems to lie with China's widely-reported clampdown on excessive displays of wealth and gift-giving. Research by Chinese consumer publication, the Hurun Report, suggests that giving of luxury gifts has fallen 30% in two years. Direct exports to the country slumped 23% to £39m, and exports to Singapore, a major trade route to China, plummeted 39% to £201m.   

Exports to the USA, the second-largest overseas market for Scotch (after France), fell 9% to £748m. The association said that sales in the country had only fallen by 1% and exports were falling mainly because retailers were using up previous stockpiles of unsold stock. American consumers developing more of a taste for their local bourbon is also thought to have been a factor.

There are still plenty of markets that just can't get enough of the drink. Exports to Taiwan were up 36% to £139m and exports to India grew 29% to £89m. The industry has seriously boomed in the last 10 years, with exports up 74% since 2004.

Read more: Is the sun setting on Aberdeen's oil boom?

'Economic and political factors in some important markets held back Scotch Whisky exports in 2014 after a decade of strong growth,' said the association's chief executive David Frost. 'It shows that the industry's success cannot be taken for granted and that we must continue to argue for more open markets and ambitious trade deals that tackle barriers to market access.'  

The broadly negative picture pours more cold water on Alex Salmond's for now abandoned economic plans for Scottish independence. The sector supports 35,000 jobs in the country and adds £5bn gross value added to the UK economy, most of that in Scotland. But with North Sea oil facing one of its biggest crises ever and now whisky taking a hit, it seems unlikely that the SNP's sums would have added up.

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