By Chris Losh

Scotch sales in Asia are set to record negative growth for the calendar year 2004, with key markets such as South Korea and Japan well down in both value and volume and previously buoyant markets such as Taiwan and Thailand seeing growth slow significantly.

According to figures from the Scotch Whisky Association for the first nine months of the year, South Korea (the industry's fourth largest market) has followed up a hesitant 2003 with a poor 2004. Value to the end of September was down 35% on the same period in 2003, and volume off 28%, results that the industry blames on the government's drive to reduce people buying on credit.

Taiwan is more or less flat after seeing stunning growth in 2003, while Japan's downward spiral continues, down 21% in value on the previous year.

Only China shows real encouragement, with continued three-digit growth, which has seen value sales go from less than £1.6m in 2000 to £9.3m in 2003 - a figure that is certain to be more than doubled for 2004.

But the Scotch producers are, nonetheless, treating the figures with a certain amount of equanimity.

"As we have seen in different Asian markets in the past, as the recession ends, Scotch whisky should be well placed to grow," said a spokesman.