The leaders of Scotland’s main seafood and food trade bodies have called 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 on January 1 this year. Confusion over paperwork, the extra documentation needed and IT problems have all contributed to delays and hold-ups.
Now 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.
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.
- The letter to the Prime Minister was sent on November 4th 2020. It was signed by the leaders of all of Scotland’s main food and drink bodies (list below).
- The first – and main – request in the letter was for a six-month grace period. The letter stated:
“As a top priority, the UK Government must negotiate a six-month ‘grace period’ from the end of the transition period to allow businesses to adjust to the new rules. This was ultimately what the transition period was meant to do but there remains a number of unanswered questions around trading arrangements after 31 December. Most significantly, Brexit preparation planned for 2020 have been lost to a battle against a global pandemic. A six-month grace period would enable businesses to trade with the new rules but without fear of significant border disruption, enforcement action and loss of further revenue. Most critically for Scotland is the need for a six-month derogation from the requirement to produce export health certificates and other export certification including haulage permits. To be clear, there is no system available that can cope with the increased demand in EHCs likely to be required from 1 January.”
- The signatories of the letter were:
Scotland Food & Drink, James Withers, Chief Executive
Food and Drink Federation Scotland, David Thomson, Chief Executive
National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scott Walker, Chief Executive
Quality Meat Scotland, Alan Clarke, Chief Executive
Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, Tim Bailey, Chief Executive
Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Martin Morgan, Executive Manager
Scottish Bakers, Alasdair Smith, Chief Executive
Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Tavish Scott, Chief Executive
Scottish Seafood Association, Jimmy Buchan, Chief Executive
Scottish Wholesale Association, Colin Smith, Chief Executive
Seafood Scotland, Donna Fordyce, Head of Seafood Scotland
- One of the main changes of Brexit has been the requirement for all produce of animal origin which is exported to the EU to carry an Export Health Certificate (EHC). These can only be certified by a vet or an authorised certification officer, usually an environmental health officer.
- Seafood producers also have to provide significant extra documentation for the certifying officers. Checking this paperwork is also taking time.
- Hubs have been set up to co-ordinate the production, allocation and certification of EHCs but the sheer volume of extra paperwork needed has meant delays at these hubs. This has resulted in lorry loads of seafood being dispatched late.
- Salmon is the UK’s biggest food export. In a normal January, around 3,100 tonnes of whole, fresh/chilled salmon are exported to the EU (the vast majority going through France). This is worth £23 million.
- This means that every day, more than 100 tonnes of whole fresh Scottish salmon should be en route to the EU with an export valuation of £750,000.
- No figures are available for export volumes since January 1st 2021 but it is clear that the problems have already had a significant effect on exports. Some salmon producers have had to postpone or cancel consignments, others have delayed harvests and also cancelled orders while others have been forced to drop prices significantly, because the fish has been delayed in getting to market.