The UK's Scotch Whisky Association has hit back at claims it has been "hostile" in its pursuit of a cut in India's tariffs on imported spirits.

UB Group chairman Dr. Vijay Mallya yesterday (1 December) attacked the SWA's tactics in lobbying for a reduction in duty levels on imported Scotch into India and backed the Indian government's tax regime.

However, an SWA spokesman told just-drinks that imported spirits into India were being "unfairly restricted" by the "very high duty burden" in India. Imported spirits are subject to a basic customs duty of 150%, while state governments in India levy an additional tax that can take the duty level up to 525%.

"That structure is in contradiction to World Trade Organisation rules. Virtually every state adds duty at a significant level above the duty paid by domestic spirits," the spokesman said. "It's effectively double taxation."

The spokesman said the SWA hoped that talks between the EU and India would result in "fair market access".

"(Lower duty levels) would offer more choice to consumers because the high duty levels are forcing consumers into the grey market. It would also reduce the federal duty burden, boost Indian government revenues and meet WTO rules," he added.

Dr. Mallya had also claimed that Indian whisky was barred from entering the EU but the SWA spokesman said that was "simply wrong".

"Indian spirits are allowed into the EU without any tariffs. Indian whisky that is produced in accordance with traditional practices is freely sold in the EU," he said, noting last year's launch of Indian whisky Amrut in the UK.

The spokesman said that, while the production of Scotch whisky is subject to a number of EU regulations on distillation and ageing before it is sold worldwide, there are no such directives on Indian whisky.

The spokesman added: "In India, there are no mandatory definitions for spirit drinks nor are they subject to any ageing requirements. Indian whisky is flavoured and labelled to imitate Scotch whisky and we have a real concern that consumers would be mislead."

The value of Scotch exports into India last year reached GBP14m (US$24.2m) and in volume terms represented under 1% of India's spirits market of 90m cases.