US tariff climbdown welcomed but further concessions needed, say Borders MP and MSP

Borders MP John Lamont and MSP Rachael Hamilton have welcomed the abandonment by the US of plans to increase tariffs on Scottish imports but fear jobs in distilleries and mills here will remain under threat unless further concessions follow.

By Darin Hutson
Thursday, 13th August 2020, 1:24 pm
US president Donald Trump with trade representative Robert Lighthizer. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
US president Donald Trump with trade representative Robert Lighthizer. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The controversial tariffs, imposed as part of a 16-year trade dispute with the European Union over state aid for aircraft manufacturers, still apply to products such as single malt whisky and knitwear, but a threat to extend them to cover shortbread, blended whisky and gin has now been lifted.

Though welcome, that concession doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to safeguard the futures of textile and alcohol firms struggling as it is to recover the four-month coronavirus lockdown only lifted weeks ago, say Mr Lamont and Mrs Hamilton.

They’re calling on the UK Government to push for further concessions from US president Donald Trump’s administration in the hope of staving off the threat of further redundancies following those already announced by the likes of Johnstons of Elgin in Hawick.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Mr Lamont said: “It is very welcome that the US has decided not to hike tariffs even further, which would have been punishing for distilleries across Scotland.

“It is also welcome that shortbread producers will be able to sell their products in the US without these punishing tariffs.

“However, I am very concerned that tariffs on knitwear and single malt remain. Local mills have made their feelings very clear to me about the problems this is causing for their exports to the United States.

“These tariffs cost local jobs and stop businesses realising their full potential in the Borders.

“It is unacceptable that they are collateral damage in a trade war over aeroplane manufacturing.”

Mrs Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, agrees, saying: “Our campaign to remove these unfair tariffs continues unabated.

“I am glad that the US has not imposed further increases on tariffs, as this would have further impacted on jobs here in Scotland.

“However, the tariffs are a significant barrier for Borders businesses, and I am concerned that is having an added impact in the already-difficult economic circumstances.

“These tariffs are costing Scottish distilleries and knitwear manufacturers dearly and I hope that the trade dispute is resolved so that businesses here are not facing the burden.”

UK international trade secretary Liz Truss has already held talks about the tariffs with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer but has pledged to seek further negotiations in the hope of persuading him to back down more.

“These tariffs damage industry and livelihoods on both sides of the Atlantic and are in nobody’s interests,” she said.