Scotch whisky distillers are close to securing protected name status for their products in China, Scottish ministers believe, following meetings with Chinese government officials.

Rapid progress is expected on the Scotch Whisky Association's (SWA) application for Geographical Indication (GI) of Origin status in China, according to a high-profile delegation visiting the country, which includes Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, and SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt.

The team, which also included UK ambassador to China Sir William Ehrman, met with Wang Yong, Chinese Minister of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), on Friday (10 April).

China is a growing market for Scotch and the SWA applied for GI status there in 2007. Since then, the trade body has helped to investigate 200 fake Scotch whisky products.

Salmond, leader of Scotland's ruling Scottish National Party, said: "I am confident we can now look forward to rapid progress in securing GI status for Scotch Whisky in China."

Hewitt said that the delegation was "greatly encouraged" by Minister Wong's attitude.

Scotch exports to China fell by 28% to GBP42m in 2007, according to the latest SWA figures available. The SWA said that this figures is misleading, however, due to growth in the number of cases exported to Singapore and then sent on to China. Direct shipments to Singapore rose by 84% to GBP158m in 2007.