The head of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) has warned that the thorny issue of imported alcohol duty is no nearer to being resolved.

Duty on alcohol being imported into India currently stands at 150%, before the individual states add their tariffs. The matter has become a cause celebre for the likes of the Scotch Whisky Association, which hopes to make the most of India's burgeoning middle class.

Fresh talks between India and the European Union, with a view to securing a free trade agreement between the two, began last month. No conclusion has yet been reached.

“As far as the Indian government is concerned, this is not a priority area,” said Pramod Krishna, CEO of the CIABC, last week. “We were very hopeful back in February that the papers would be signed and definitely the duties would come down. They will come down, but they won't come crashing down like the Berlin wall. Eventually it will happen, I can assure you of that. But when, is anybody's guess.”

Elaborating on the Government's low priority approach to the matter, Krishna said: “Unfortunately, when you look at statistics, in spite of these high duties, imports are going up. Therefore, as far as the government is concerned, they look at it and they see that they're getting revenues, the market is growing and people who can afford it will, in any case, drink.”

Krishna insisted, however, that the battle would go on: “Engagement is the art of diplomacy,” he said. “You have to carry on. You have to keep making the right noises.”

Krishna was talking at the World Whiskies Conference in London.