Following two years of negotiations, the Vietnamese National Office for Intellectual Property (NOIP) has agreed the registration of Scotch whisky as a "geographical indication of origin (GI)", the SWA said.

An SWA spokesman said the body had first applied for protection in Vietnam in 2008.

"It will make it easier for us to take action against any imitators in that country as the government has recognised Scotch whisky has to be made here, that there is a formal commitment to that," the spokesman said.

The breakthrough in Vietnam follows similar protection granted in China and Panama in recent weeks, and comes ahead of a decision expected shortly from authorities in India.

Kenny Gray, the SWA legal adviser responsible for the Vietnamese market, said: "GI protection in Vietnam is a real boost to Scotch whisky in an important emerging market.

"With similar protection granted in China and Panama, this announcement completes a hat-trick of decisions that will help to protect consumers from imitation products."

At an event in Hanoi, the NOIP presented the GI certificate to Dr Anthony Stokes, the British ambassador to Vietnam, and the trade body's local legal representatives.

The SWA said that while exports to Vietnam are currently less than £1 million a year, it is considered to be a high-priority emerging market for the industry. In 2009, Scotch exports to China totalled £44m.

However, market access to Vietnam remains restricted, with Scotch still facing a high import tariff of 55 per cent.

The SWA spokesman said: "As Vietnam's economy develops, with an increasing number of aspiring consumers who want and can afford premium imported products, and market access improves, the industry believes there are similar opportunities for Scotch whisky as experienced elsewhere in south-east Asia.

"Improved market access and a more reasonable tariff and tax burden would support the legitimate market for spirit drinks."

Scotch exports to the much bigger market of India are currently running at £30m a year. The SWA said it had made its application for intellectual property protection in India early in 2009. It is believed the decision will be announced by the Indian authorities by the end of January.

By Martin Flanagan - Scotland on Sunday - December 26, 2010