The leaders of Scotland’s salmon sector – which produces the UK’s biggest food export – have come together with their seafood and food and drink counterparts to appeal for a ‘lighter touch’ approach to help exports get through to the main European markets more smoothly.
They're calling on the UK Government to help resolve the delays to EU exports which are causing significant problems for the sector.
Dozens of lorry loads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since the full Brexit regulations came into force at the start of this year. Confusion over paperwork, the extra documentation needed and IT problems have all contributed to delays and hold-ups.
The leaders of all of Scotland’s main food and drink bodies – including Scotland Food and Drink (SF&D), the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) and Seafood Scotland (SS) – wrote to the Prime Minister in November appealing for a gradual implementation period for the new rules, but without success.
They now believe the Brexit deal, which was agreed by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve: just a week before the new regulations came into effect, gave businesses no time to prepare for the huge changes necessary to get produce to the continent.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the SSPO, said: “Had a deal been concluded even a couple of months ago, that would have given our producers and hauliers the time to test out the new systems, trial the paperwork and get everything in place.
“As it is, we have had lorry loads of salmon stuck in Scotland, waiting for the right paperwork, we have seen delays in France because of IT problems in bringing in whole new systems and confusion everywhere.
“Our members are resourceful and have been trying everything they can to get fish to customers in Europe, including new routes, but every delay forces the price of our product down and hands the initiative to our international competitors.”
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “All our producers have been working incredibly hard to work through all the extra red tape which has been put in place since January 1 but it is an almost impossible task given the lack of preparation time.
“The UK Government has to realise the enormous difficulties that have been placed in the way of exporters simply because there wasn’t a workable system in place by the end of Brexit transition, despite numerous warnings that there would be issues.”
James Withers, Chief Executive of SF&D, said: “For the last few months, we have been appealing to the UK Government to agree a grace period with the EU. We wanted to see the gradual implementation of the new Brexit trade rules, a six-month bedding-in period which would have allowed exporters and the EU to adjust to the new demands.
“Instead, we have had to cope with a cliff edge with everything changing on January 1. We warned this would lead to problems but our appeals for the grace period were ignored.”
In the absence of that ‘grace period’, the export leaders want the UK Government to work with the French authorities to ensure a ‘light-touch’ approach to the paperwork until everything settles down.
They want both the UK and Scottish Government to liaise closely with hauliers, local authorities and the agencies dealing with the new paperwork to ensure adequate resources are in place.
The UK Government is waiving many of the border checks which should be in place for imports to the UK. Ministers should now work with their French counterparts to get a similar approach adopted for exports to the EU.