Scotch whisky distillers have welcomed the signing of a free trade deal between the EU and South Korea, which will see cuts to import tax on their products.

EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton and Korean trade minister Kim Jong-hoon yesterday (15 October) signed the trade deal, described by the European Commission as "the most important ever negotiated between the European Union and a third country".

The deal, estimated to be worth up to EUR19bn (US$28.3bn) in new trade for EU exporters, will remove virtually all tariffs between the two economies, as well as many non-tariff barriers, said the Commission.
Scotch whisky producers have long pushed for a deal between the EU and South Korea, a country believed to hold significant export potential for whisky.

A Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) spokesperson told just-drinks today: "Tariff elimination in South Korea has been a key SWA trade priority for a number of years and an issue we have pursued actively in Brussels and Seoul. Removal of the 20% tariff on Scotch whisky, as part of this agreement, is an important boost in what is a significant market for Scottish distillers."

The Commission added: "One of the key benefits of the deal for the European Union is the quick elimination of EUR1.6bn of duties for exporters to Korea."

A text of the trade agreement will be handed to all 27 EU member states for approval in early 2010. The agreement is set to be fully implemented in the second half of 2010, said the Commission.

Scotch exports to Korea totalled GBP139m (US$203m) in 2008, according to the latest figures from the SWA.