THE NEW ASIA-PACIFIC managing director of one of Scotland's top malt whisky producers believes that, by 2010, China will become its top market in Asia and one of its top three in the world. Martin Reimann yesterday spoke of his confidence in the China market after opening the Asia-Pacific office of the Edrington Group in Shanghai. With labels such as the Famous Grouse, Highland Park and the Macallan brands, the company is the largest independent Scotch whisky producer. The regional office had previously been in Hong Kong. Last year, the company sold in China 10,000 12-bottle cases of malt whisky, a fraction of the total imports of one million cases, which in turn accounts for one thousandth of total spirit sales on the mainland. The market leaders in whisky are Johnny Walker and Chivas Regal. 'The scale of opportunity is enormous. China has a culture of drinking spirits,' Mr Reimann said. The mainland is Edrington's third biggest market in Asia, after Taiwan with 60,000 to 70,000 cases a year and Japan, with 30,000 to 40,000 cases. With an import duty of 100 per cent, a bottle of its Famous Grouse blended whisky costs 150 yuan (HK$141), 12-year-old Macallan 400 yuan and a rare, 30-year-old Macallan 5,000 yuan. Mr Reimann expects sales to rise by an annual 30 per cent, reaching about 100,000 cases by 2010, making China its biggest Asian market and one of the top three globally. 'We want to define Macallan as a luxury, iconic brand, like Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Hermes or Dunhill, for people who drive BMWs or Mercedes,' he said. 'Our core market is people aged from 35 to 50, mainly men, company executives, Chinese who travel a lot, those who are independently successful and seek quality and heritage. People look for higher quality products with international credentials. Whisky has historic weight and presence.' The company aims to market its brands at the upper end of the whisky market and repeat its marketing strategy in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. It will not target the mass market through TV and print media. Instead, it is aiming at more selective marketing. While China has promised to reduce the import duties on spirits as part of its accession to the World Trade Organisation, it is likely to replace them with other taxes that will ensure whisky remains a luxury product. South Korea, for example, levies an 'education and environment' tax on imported whisky. Mr Reimann said he was not worried about fakes: 'There have been a few copies of Johnny Walker Black Label but our products are very difficult to copy. 'Our consumers know the difference immediately. They can only be made in Scotland in wooden barrels. They are not an industrial product. We use sherried oak trees specially grown in northern Spain.'