Talks between the EU and South Korea on a possible free trade agreement could significantly benefit Scotch whisky distillers, the Scotch Whisky Association has said.

The trade body (SWA) has called on EU negotiators to make a "determined push" to secure a deal during scheduled talks next month.

South Korea was Scotch whisky's fifth largest export market by value in 2007, with exports reaching GBP139m for the year, according to the latest figures available.

A bilateral trade deal between South Korea and the EU could remove Korea's 20% import tariff on Scotch whisky.

The SWA is also lobbying EU negotiators to push for a deal that would see South Korea recognising EU "geographical indications", such as Scotch. SWA leaders hailed a breakthrough on GI recognition before Christmas, when Chinese authorities agreed to protect Scotch as a unique product.

Martin Bell, SWA international affairs manager, said: "The elimination of Korea's whisky tariff and better protection of intellectual property rights are high priorities for the Association and would be a timely boost to exports to what is a major market for Scotch Whisky."

Global exports of Scotch whisky fell 3% by volume in the first nine months of 2008, according to provisional figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). Exports by value for the same period rose by 12%.

SWA spokesperson David Williamson told just-drinks before Christmas that sales remained "encouraging", despite the global economic downturn.