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  Scotland is being double-charged by the Foreign Office to promote Scotch Whisky overseas, it has emerged.
 
Official figures given in response to a Prime Ministerial Question have revealed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have spent almost £6.5m of taxpayer’s money on hospitality since December last year – putting Scotland’s share at over half a million pounds.

Despite this, the FCO still charge Scottish organisations separately to promote Whisky, which is one of the UK’s biggest exports, bringing in £4.2bn in the year until June 2012.

Earlier in the year, William Hague was ridiculed for claiming that UK embassies would charge to promote Whisky after Scotland becomes independent.

Speaking in January, the Foreign Secretary told a private meeting that if Scotland goes it alone, UK embassies will stop promoting the drink.  Scotland would have to take over the job – and pay for it.  However it subsequently emerged that embassies already charge Scottish Development International up to £3000 a time for receptions promoting Whisky.

In contrast, UK trade and investment groups holding similar events are allowed to use the facilities for free.

Commenting, Moray SNP MP Angus Robertson said:

“As we all raise a glass this evening to bring in the New Year, we should toast one of Scotland’s continuing and iconic success stories, as our Whisky industry goes from strength to strength.

“But little thanks are due to the UK Government – which continues to charge Scottish Development International to promote Whisky in their embassies.

“SDI has been recognised as one of the world’s most successful development agencies – and has helped Scotland become the most attractive place in the UK for Foreign Direct Investment.

“Yet the UK Government charges it £3000 a time to promote Whisky in its embassies – a charge not placed on similar organisations from elsewhere in the UK.

“William Hague became a laughing stock for scaremongering over possible charges to promote Whisky if Scotland became independent, when it emerged that he is already charging us for it. So, by definition, he admits that Scotland is currently getting a bad deal.

“This is just one more example of how Scotland is losing out as a result of decisions being taken at Westminster.”

This year Scotch whisky was granted geographical indication protection by China after First Minister Alex Salmond visited the country, it is the first international product to receive such legal protection.

During a previous visit in December 2011, the First Minister personally launched the Scotland food and drinks strategy for Asia.  Whisky exports to Asia remained steady this year with good growth in Taiwan, up 14% on 2011.

Worldwide exports of Scotch whisky reached £3.54 billion in 2010.  In the full 12 months to the end of June 2012, value of Scotch Whisky exports increased by 12% to £4.2 billion from £3.8 billion in 2011.

Speaking in October this year, Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said:

"Over the past year the value of Scotch Whisky exports has continued to increase and we're delighted to build on our outstanding success in 2011 with 12% growth in the last 12 months. While there has been a levelling off in the first half of this year, the industry remains confident about the future.

"Recent announcements of investments in new distilleries and the expansion of existing facilities demonstrate the level of confidence producers have in future growth opportunities."

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