AFTER months of growing international trade conflict, Scotland is now in the crosshairs. What has largely been a falling out between the United States and China is increasingly focused on the European Union. This week, the World Trade Organisation ruled that the US can impose tariffs on £6.1 billion of goods imported from EU member states. At issue is illegal support to European aircraft maker Airbus by the governments of the countries where production is mostly centred: the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain.

Airbus UK designs and manufactures wings for the Airbus aircraft at Filton, north of Bristol and Broughton in Flintshire. The wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus employs nearly 13,000 people at the two sites. Other major centres are in the French city of Toulouse, Hamburg in Germany and Seville in Spain.

The dispute has been running for more than a decade, with US accusations that cheap financial loans to Airbus have amounted to illegal state subsidies. After the WTO ruled in favour of the US complaint, the US went on to accuse the EU and certain member states of not complying with the decision.

The WTO green light for tariffs against transgressor states including the UK is the largest in the organisation’s history.

READ MORE: Ministers respond to Scotch whisky tariff war with Trump

Following the ruling, the Office of the US Trade Representative issued a list of items which will be targeted. Tariffs will be set at a 10% rate on aircraft and 25% on agricultural and other products, set to come into force on October 18. Key Scottish exports to the United States are in the firing line, including single malt whisky, knitted cashmere, seafood and cheese.

Scotch whisky is one of the country’s biggest exports, with the US market worth more than £1bn – 22% of its global value. While it’s true to point out that the blended Scotch brands like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal will not be affected, leading premium single malt brands like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan will be hit by a 25% import tariff. Disproportionate damage is expected to smaller producers, who will potentially lose a bigger proportion of their turnover.

The chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, Karen Betts, is quite right to say that it is a blow to the sector.

“This is a serious situation for the industry,” she said. “We heard overnight that a 25% import tariff will be imposed on all single malts into the United States and also all Scotch whisky liqueurs – and that’s from a position of zero.

“We’ve had a zero tariff on imports to the United States for the past 25 years, so this is quite a hike.”

The Scotch whisky sector directly employs more than 11,000 people in Scotland, with more than 7000 of the jobs being in rural areas like Speyside. Thousands more are employed via the supply chain and in associated industries like tourism.

READ MORE: The Airbus and Boeing rivalry that threatens Scotch whisky

Other Scottish export industries impacted by the tariffs are similarly located in rural areas, from the Borders to Moray, which are centres of cashmere knitwear production, or coastal communities involved in shellfish production and dairy producers in different parts of the country.

These tariff threats are just the latest in a series of trade conflicts involving US President Donald Trump and countries around the world.

They started last year when the US announced 25% tariffs on steel and 10% on aluminium imported into the United States. This led to £2.4bn of European duties on US goods including bourbon whiskey.

This is far from the end of the disputes, with the WTO set to rule on US state aid to its aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing early next year. The European Commission has proposed £15bn of tariffs on US goods. None of this is good for trade or consumers.

This is a preview of the post-Brexit rule of the jungle, where the UK will be outside the world’s biggest trading block and at the mercy of Donald Trump, who is prepared to throw his weight around. How ironic that Boris Johnson’s top Brexit negotiator is the former head of the Scotch Whisky Association, David Frost. How ironic that we are in the tariff crosshairs despite the much-vaunted friendship between Trump and BoJo and the mythical “special relationship”.

How ironic that key Scottish industries are the target of tariffs when Scotland is not a major production centre for Airbus.

It is the UK Government that has been found guilty of breaching international trade rules. Scotland should not have to pay the price. Our best trading future will be guaranteed by a direct voice in the European Union. Only independence will guarantee a seat at the top table. We must be a strong voice for negotiated settlements not trade wars, protectionism and punitive tariffs.