Scotch whisky exports fall by 7%
A decade of strong growth in Scotch whisky exports came to an end last year as overseas sales fell, according to new figures.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said HM Revenue and Customs data showed exports fell 7% to £3.95bn in 2014.
The decline was in part due to a sharp drop in exports to the USA, the biggest market for Scotch by value, where sales fell by 9% to £748m.
The volume of global exports also fell by 3%, to 1.19 billion 70cl bottles.
SWA blamed the decline on "weaker economic conditions and political volatility" in some markets.
But it remained upbeat about the future, arguing that the long-term outlook for the sector was good with underlying strong growth in most emerging markets.
In Asia, Taiwan saw exports jump 36% to £197m, partly as a result of the growing popularity of single malts.
Exports to India were up 29% to £89m, despite a 150% import tariff.
Top six Scotch whisky export markets by value - 2014
1. USA £750m (-9%)
2. France £445m (+2%)
3. Singapore £201m (-39%)
4. Taiwan £197m (+36%)
5. Spain £166m (-8%)
6. Germany £141m (-18%)
But there was a mixed picture in emerging markets. Exports by volume to Mexico grew 5% to 42.8 million bottles, while value fell by 10% in that market.
There was a similar trend in Brazil, with volumes flat but value down 20%.
The important hub market of the United Arab Emirates continued to boom, with exports up 27% by value.
However, exports to the major regional hub of Singapore fell by 39% in value to £200m.
SWA said this was partly down to the ongoing austerity campaign in China - the final destination for much of the Scotch shipped from the UK to Singapore.
Direct exports to China, the 26th largest market by value, fell 23% to £39m.
SWA said the 9% fall in exports to the USA was due partly to stock adjustments and an increasingly competitive spirits market.
Exports to France, the biggest market by volume and second biggest by value, were up 2% to £445m, suggesting that the French market was stabilising after Scotch was hit by a tax increase in 2012.
One encouraging sign for the industry was that global exports appeared to perform better in the second half of last year.
SWA chief executive David Frost said: "Economic and political factors in some important markets held back Scotch whisky exports in 2014 after a decade of strong growth.
"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 long-term fundamentals remain strong, with consumers in emerging markets wanting to buy Scotch whisky as a high-quality and authentic product with a strong reputation and clear provenance.
"This drives the strong investment in Scotch whisky production in Scotland and the significant interest in entering the sector."