Exports of Scotch whisky could be boosted if the UK joins a trans-Pacific trade agreement after Brexit, according to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which comes into force on Sunday, will eliminate tariffs on 95% of goods traded between states once ratified by all members.
The agreement covers 11 countries around the Pacific rim, including Australia, Canada and Japan, as well as fast-growing economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam.
According to the Department for International Trade (DIT), UK Scotch whisky exports to CPTPP nations were worth £850 million in 2017-18 – an increase of 13.2% on the previous year.
Scotch whisky exports currently face tariff charges, such as 5% when exporting to Australia, which make them more expensive for consumers.
CPTPP countries account for 17.8% of Scotch whisky exports globally.
The UK Government has suggested that joining the CPTPP would bring significant savings for exporters and businesses and raise standards on human rights, labour practices and environmental standards across member states.
DIT is in the process of analysing responses to a 14-week public consultation on potential accession to the trade bloc.
Mr Fox said: “Total trade between the UK and CPTPP members was worth £95 billion last year and the UK joining could help British businesses further establish a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region, which will be an engine of growth in the 21st century.
“We are determined to deliver a free trade agenda that guarantees greater market access for existing UK exporters and helps more businesses, including SMEs, to capitalise on the opportunities that free trade brings.
“The Scotch whisky industry supports more than 40,000 jobs across the UK, 7,000 of them in rural areas, providing vital employment and investment.
“In 2017, £139 worth of whisky was exported every second and there is great potential to increase this in the future after we leave the European Union.”
Martin Bell, of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “The Scotch whisky industry is a strong supporter of open markets and trade liberalisation.
“CPTPP is a 21st century trade agreement which balances ambitious market access commitments and state-of-the-art rules with appropriate space for regulators to pursue legitimate domestic policy goals.
“The agreement already encompasses many important and growing markets for Scotch whisky in a high-growth region. With more countries likely to join in the future, UK accession to CPTPP in time would be good for UK exporters.
“This includes success stories like Scotch whisky, which supports over 40,000 jobs across the UK and accounts for 20% of all UK food and drink exports.”