The aftermath of Brexit is now a reality for Scotland’s salmon farming companies. Market price is down. Costs and bureaucracy are up. Lorries of salmon have been delayed or stopped from even reaching the Channel since the new regulations kicked in on New Year’s Day.
The transfer to the UK’s export status as a third country and not an EU single market member was never going to be without pain. But the reality is now biting. We need the government to deliver lighter-touch trading rules for export businesses.
Scotland’s salmon farming sector is the nation’s number one food exporter. In the ten months to October last year, 62,000 tonnes of Scottish salmon worth £392 million were served on EU dinner plates. So after the prime minister signed his trade deal on Christmas Eve, there were inevitable consequences for seafood businesses.
We had asked UK ministers to give exporters six months’ grace after the deal was signed. The logic was simple: the UK was replacing a seamless export route without barriers with a whole new system of paperwork and documentation. No such grace period was granted.
The deal meant that the entire export logistics system had less than seven days — during a holiday period — to put in place all the additional export bureaucracy now needed. Had the deal been concluded in October, as the country was assured it would be, then there would have been time to test a new customs system with the French and UK authorities all aligned. But for reasons that appear to be more about politics than business, the economy and jobs, that request was refused.
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the importance of the European marketplace. A year ago, Scottish salmon exports split 50-50 between EU markets and the rest of the world. Now the European market accounts for close to two thirds of export production because worldwide markets have contracted.
So the salmon farming sector, which supports 12,000 direct and indirect jobs, harvested more fish for France, Spain and other European countries last year. As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic goes from bad to worse, and despite vaccines being deployed across Europe, the economic damage will be felt all the way through 2021.
Scottish companies have developed new European markets as the need for quality, nutritious and healthy protein is met by salmon. But Scotland can only fulfil this need if the sector can export efficiently to European and world markets. At present, that is not the reality.
This blog by SSPO Chief Executive Tavish Scott first appeared in The Times on the 15th January 2021