Scotch whisky exports edged up by just 1 per cent last year as changes to the rate of duty in France and the eurozone debt crisis continued to take their toll.

Overseas sales hit £4.3 billion, a new record, but failed to match the 23 per cent rise reported in 2011 when French retailers stocked but ahead of a tax change or the 10 per cent notched up in 2010.

The volume of Scotch exports fell by 5 per cent to just under 1.2 billion 70cl bottles.

Yet Scotch still brought in an average of £135 a second for the UK’s balance of trade, despite the eurozone debt crisis forcing consumers in Mediterranean countries to cut back on their spending.

Highlights in the latest set of figures – released today by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) trade body – included sales in the United States breaking through the £700 million barrier for the first time to hit £758m, cementing America’s position as whisky’s largest export market.

Globally, single malt exports have risen by 190 per cent over the past decade from £268m to £778m as consumers develop a taste for more-expensive whiskies.

Gavin Hewitt, the SWA’s chief executive, said: “Scotch whisky continues to lead the way for UK food and drink exports.

“A combination of successful trade negotiations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the US, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year. We are contributing massively to the government’s wish for an export-led recovery.

“There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years. New distilleries have opened and older ones brought back to use to meet rising demand.”

The trends highlighted in the full-year figures reflect those flagged-up in the interim data from the SWA back in October.

Exports to Singapore, which acts as a distribution hub for many Asian countries, were up 7 per cent to £339m, with Taiwan 7 per cent higher at £165m and direct shipments to China growing by 8 per cent to £72m.

Indian imports jumped by 17 per cent to £62m despite an “onerous” 150 per cent import tariff and local taxes.

The SWA said: “A successful outcome to on-going negotiations between the European Union (EU) and India on the free trade agreement (FTA) would reduce the onerous 150 per cent import tariff.”

Whisky is one of the UK’s fastest-growing exports to Mexico, increasing by 14 per cent to £92m.

Imports in other South American countries have also benefited from a FTA with the EU.