In an article, Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator with the United Kingdom has said the UK Government has not yet agreed to protect ‘Geographical Indications’ (GI) such as Scotch Whisky.

The Scottish Government has been pressing UK Government to agree a need for a UK GI System post-Brexit.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Fergus Ewing said urgent action is needed from the UK Government in Brexit talks to protect Scotland’s world-renowned food and drink produce.

The EU's GI scheme recognises products' regional importance and distinctive characteristics and prevents companies in other countries from producing knock-offs by threat of heavy legal penalties.

The UK Government has indicated it intends to establish its own GI scheme after leaving the EU.

But the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said these protections are among the outstanding issues yet to be agreed with his British counterparts.

Scottish ministers, including Nicola Sturgeon, have previously raised concerns that GIs for currently safeguarded Scottish products could be abandoned to sweeten a future free trade deal with the US.

There are 15 Scottish products that currently have protected Geographical Indicator and include Scotch whisky, beef and lamb, Dunlop cheese, Orkney cheddar, wild Scottish salmon and farmed Scottish salmon.

The Scottish food and industry is the fastest growing sector of the country's economy, with a record £6bn exported overseas last year led by soaring whisky and salmon sales.

Whisky accounted for 20% of all UK food and drink exports in 2017, with a boost in Scotch sales in the US, France, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan and South Africa.

Mr Ewing said:

“Maintaining our Protected Food Names and other Geographical Indications following Brexit is vital – this is something that we have been calling for the UK Government to do for a long time. The European Commission’s Chief Negotiator recognises the significant contribution that these producers make to the wider economy.

“We have been pressing UK Government to agree a need for a UK GI System post-Brexit from the outset and, while we welcome confirmation in their White Paper of the plans to do so, there remains a question over maintaining the existing protection currently enjoyed by our producers within the EU through the mutual recognition of our protected products.

“It is extremely alarming that the EU says this has not yet been resolved and that the failure of the UK Government to reach agreement on this issue is being cited as one of the obstacles to reaching an overall Withdrawal Agreement. A No Deal outcome would be catastrophic for our food and drink industry and the economy as a whole.

“The UK Government must make it clear it is not preparing to ditch vital Geographical Indications to facilitate a future trade deal with the US. It must rule out No Deal and reach an agreement that protects our world-class produce.

“Scottish food and drink exports are at an all-time high – with world-renowned Scottish goods like salmon and whisky being consumed across the globe at record levels. That’s due in part to sectors working together to sell our remarkable products, and creating or enhancing our national brands.

“Even in this time of uncertainty we will continue to do everything we can to support the growth of food and drink exports, working with key sectors to develop new and existing markets, boosting innovation and skills, and supporting Scotland’s local producers via business rates exemptions and grants.” 

The article by Michel Barnier can be read in full here.