Drinks exporters have welcomed China's promise to slash its tariffs on spirits as part of the country's bilateral trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which should pave the way for Beijing to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this year. Edwin Atkinson, of the Gin and Vodka Association, said that the pledged cut - from the current general 65 per cent level to a uniform 10% for all spirits - represents the biggest breakthrough drinks in the international drinks trade since a Sino-American trade agreement that was struck last year. He said: "The talks with the US had already achieved a significant reduction in duty on drinks for all drinks except for gin. We welcome greatly this breakthrough and congratulate the EU and the DTI on their achievements. "We look forward to working closely with the Chinese authorities on remaining issues concerning distribution," he added. Sales of Scotch whisky to China were worth just £1.2m in 1999 and the Scotch Whisky Association's media and government affairs manager Karen Prentice said that this low tariff will boost this trade dramatically. She said: "At present exports of Scotch whisky to China are very low, and given such a dramatic drop in tariff we expect to see exports rise considerably. It's definitely good news for Scotch whisky exporters," she added.Kate Ellerton