I am fighting to consign unacceptable and unfair tariffs to the rubbish bin of history - My article in the Telegraph

US tariffs on Scotch whisky are unacceptable and unfair. I cannot be clearer about that. Whisky-making is one of our great industries and a jewel in our national crown.

Other excellent businesses including cashmere and salmon have also been hit in a trade war that damages both sides of the Atlantic.

You may find yourself baffled as to why these taxes are even in place. It’s because these iconic businesses have been unfairly caught up in a 15-year battle between the US and the EU over aircraft subsidies for Boeing and Airbus.

As part of the feud, the US was given rights to levy tariffs by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on trade of up to £6.1 billion. Of the tariffs imposed, 36 per cent are on French exports, 25 per cent German, 12 per cent Spanish and 11 per cent on UK exports. 

While I don’t condone the US position, I don’t approve of EU intransigence either. The EU, with its high tariff wall, has failed to stand up for British interests – and Scottish interests in particular – and has made little progress towards resolving an issue that should have been sorted years ago. 

Since leaving the EU, the Government won an important victory last week when the US announced it would not levy new tariffs on the likes of British gin, beer and sparkling wine.

We also secured the removal of tariffs on shortbread such as Walkers, which has saved more than 250 jobs. That was a welcome step, but it did not address existing tariffs on single malt Scotch and a host of other products.

I am determined to settle the issue as soon as possible and help our struggling producers.

While we do have some more powers now, from January 1 we’ll be an independent trading nation once again, with our own tariff regime, and will be able to take direct control of this. 

The Government is stepping up talks with the US to try and break the impasse, and will be entering into further discussions with my opposite number US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the coming weeks.

This issue encapsulates why it is so important for Britain to have its own independent trade policy. For the first time in almost 50 years, we’ll be able to strike our own trade deals, set our own tariff policy and export the best of Britain abroad in a way that we haven’t been able to as part of the EU. 

Since joining the EU we have fallen behind our allies in terms of trade, but now we have chance to change that. No longer will our best exporters be pressed up against the glass window of the global economy, looking in.

Britain is the founder of the free trade movement and its greatest champion. We want lower taxes and better market access for exporters.

We also believe in fair dealings between countries, so will be tough on nations who don’t play by the rules and resort to protectionism.

We are in a series of negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to strike new free trade agreements and lower tariffs for our exporters. Talks in all four are progressing well.

Round four of US negotiations starts soon, where we’ll talk directly about tariffs. On Japan, we have consensus on the major elements of a deal that will go beyond the agreement the EU has with Japan.

We aim to have agreement in principle by the end of August. Round two of talks with Australia starts in mid-September, and the second round of discussions with New Zealand starts a month later.

These deals are an important step towards accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which will hitch Britain to one of the world’s fastest-growing parts of the globe.

CPTPP reduces tariffs on 95 per cent of goods between members – but also sets high standards in areas such as digital trade and data.

Membership will help put Britain at the centre of a network of free trade agreements where parties treat each other fairly, play by the rules, and help make us a hub for businesses trading with the rest of the world.

Ultimately, all these agreements will bring down tariffs for our producers. The US deal could boost trade by £15 billion and wipe out almost half a billion pounds of tariffs – benefiting Scotland, the Midlands and the North East the most – helping to level-up our country. 

They will also help defend British businesses, including our brilliant whisky producers, against the effects of protectionism by guaranteeing market access in a period where trade barriers across the world are going up.

At a time of rising global insecurity, in an era of creeping protectionism and in the midst of a global pandemic, I firmly believe free and fair trade remains the best way forward for the world and for Britain.

I will fight to consign these unfair tariffs to the bin of history.