Forget about sterling: What will Brexit mean for Scotch whisky?

From freeing up trade between countries to ensuring an open labor market across its 28 members, the European Union has played many important roles in Europe over the last few decades. And on top of ensuring social and economic freedom, it has also found time to protect Scotch Whisky, Stilton cheese and the humble Cornish pasty. But could this protection of Britain's famous foodstuffs come an end on June 24?

One function of the EU is to protect goods and foodstuffs which can be identified with a specific region from imitations. For instance, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne.

Currently, the U.K. has 73 products - ranging from the Melton Mowbray pork pie, Cheddar cheese and Cornish clotted cream - registered with the EU's protected food name scheme, which prevents foreign producers from selling versions of these product that have no link to their place of origin.

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If the U.K. votes to leave the European Union on June 23, it would either have to renegotiate a vast range of treaties - including protected food - or let some agreements fall by the wayside and go it alone.

In the event of a Brexit, the U.K. would most likely sign a trade deal with other EU members to continue recognising the protected status of each other's foods. However. it may struggle to get other countries outside the EU to agree to these protections, according to Lewis Crofts, chief correspondent at market analysts MLex.

"The concept of geographical indications isn't popular with countries such as the U.S. and Japan, and the EU — despite its huge negotiating weight — is struggling to persuade trade partners to include them in trade deals," Crofts wrote in a report in May.

"This begs the question: if the EU is having a tough time doing it, what hope does the U.K. have?"

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Several producers of protected goods are concerned about Brexit. For instance, the Cornish pasty currently has protected geographical indication (PGI) status with the EU.

According to trade body the Cornish Pasty Association (CPA), the PGI status helps protect the quality and reputation of their product, which generates £300 million ($425million) of trade each year.

"As an organisation that has benefited from the EU protected food names system, and no clear evidence available to demonstrate that Brexit would enable that protection to continue, the CPA supports Britain remaining in the EU and being able to participate in that system," said the association's chairman Jason Jobling in a public statement.

Scotch Whisky may also be under threat. Exports of the spirit reached £3.86 billion ($5.47billion) in 2015, but this could be disrupted by Brexit and the Scotch Whisky Association is in favor of remaining.

"The EU's weight and expertise in international trade helps give us fair access to overseas markets through the agreements it is able to negotiate with third countries," said David Williamson, public affairs director of the Scotch Whisky Association. " And of course the protection of the Scotch Whisky geographical indication is rooted in European law."

A Melton Mowbray Pork Pie
Luke MacGregor | Bloomberg | Getty Images

However, others are much less concerned about the impact of Brexit and have pointed out that the EU protects the foods of countries that aren't a member.

"Brexit will not make much of a difference. U.K. protected products will still be protected in the EU, like Colombian coffee [even though Columbia] isn't a member of the EU," Dr Matthew O'Callaghan, chairman of Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and the U.K. Protected Food Names Association told CNBC via email.

"However if EU laws no longer apply in the U.K. then Melton Mowbray Pies [which have PGI status] would be protected in the EU but not the U.K. I imagine that the U.K. government would pass legislation to continue this protection."

The EU is not the only trade organisation to protect goods, either. For instance, the World Intellectual Property Organization, a UN agency, can offer some help and the U.K. may add protections into future trade negotiations, but these could be limited measures.

"On the fringes of the EU, the U.K. could be expected to secure its own agreement with the remaining countries of the bloc. And further afield, it would have to try its hardest to include the protections in new trade deals yet to be struck," said Lewis Crofts.

"Globally, there are also international rules on geographic indications, governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization, that provide some limited succor."

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