Protecting Scotch in the age of Brexit

23 Aug 2017

The UK is preparing for a time of great change as we approach Brexit. Leaving the European Union will undoubtedly have a major impact on British industries and exporters, including Scotch Whisky.

We have a team of specialists at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) working hard to ensure the industry is ready for Brexit and that our voice is being heard. We are liaising closely with governments to make a success of Brexit.
One area of great importance is looking at what Brexit might mean for the Scotch Whisky geographical indication (GI) which helps deliver a high level of legal protection for the product and consumers.

Alan Park, SWA director of legal affairs, considers here how Brexit might affect the legal protection of Scotch Whisky.

Scotch Whisky has been defined in UK law since 1933.  Brexit is not going to change that. Scotch Whisky is also recognised as a GI and has been since the concept was introduced by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in 1994. A GI has special and unique characteristics and a reputation associated with its origin. Brexit will not alter the fact that Scotch Whisky is a GI.

There is an obligation on members of the WTO, the vast majority of nations, to protect GIs from misuse. Some WTO members do that by providing a register for GIs in the same way countries provide a trade mark register. Scotch Whisky is recognised as a GI in this way from the Dominican Republic to Thailand. Other countries choose to protect GIs in other ways and the SWA has taken advantage of those different approaches. For example, Scotch Whisky is specifically protected in the domestic legislation of many markets, such as the recognition given to Scotch Whisky in the US Federal Code. Brexit is not going to affect that either.

Where Brexit will have an impact is in the protection given to Scotch Whisky in some bilateral agreements between the EU and third countries. We want the UK to negotiate the continued benefits of those agreements but, in the meantime, the SWA is already taking steps to ensure that Scotch Whisky is recognised and protected in those markets in the range of ways available to it.

The key fact to remember is that the SWA has been protecting Scotch Whisky around the world before GIs were defined by the WTO in 1994, and before the EU existed, so whatever changes Brexit brings, the SWA will continue to do what it has done for many decades: stop the sale of any products unfairly taking advantage of the reputation of Scotch Whisky. This means the consumer can continue to enjoy Scotch Whisky knowing that it is a well protected and high quality drink.