Despite the international economic troubles in the last six months, the value of Scotch Whisky exports rose 2.3% to £961m in the first six months of 2003 compared to same period last year.

According to half-year figures released by The Scotch Whisky Association, the global interest in bottled malts is continuing, with malt whisky recording double-digit growth - an 18% leap in export value reaching £121m, on the back of a 22% rise in shipments of malt whisky to over 22m bottles.

Bottled in Scotland blends - which make up 80% of export value - performed less impressively with values up 1.5% to £740m, but volumes down 2.8% to 273.6m bottles.

Ian Good, chairman of The Scotch Whisky Association, said: "An increase in the value of Scotch exports during the first half of 2003 is very encouraging at what was a difficult time for the world economy due to international unrest and the SARS outbreak.

"We are delighted the popularity of malts continues to increase around the world. The leap in the value and volume of malt exports is testament to a growing awareness among consumers of its different styles and characteristics. Just as welcome is the news that blended whisky values are also up in 2003."

Despite the SARS outbreak, the value of exports to key Asian markets, such as South Korea (+4.6%) and Taiwan (+23%), increased.

The SWA also said it appeared that China was beginning to develop a taste for Scotch whisky. The value of Scotch exports to China for the 6 month period increased by over £2m in comparison to 2002, a jump of some 160%.

Closer to home, exports to the EU were up a healthy £32m on this time last year, reaching £363m (+9.6%). There were also a welcome sign of the possible opportunities that await distillers when the EU expands eastwards next year, with sales to Eastern European countries increasing both by value (+39%) and volume (+54%).

Sales to the industry's largest market, the US, increased both by value (+1%) and volume (+6%).

In the UK, volumes were steady increasing by 1.1m bottles on 2002 (+2.5%) to reach 47m bottles.