Post-Brexit red tape hits Scottish seafood exports, NI trade

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Disruptions to the supply chain risk pricing Scottish seafood producers out of the market
Disruptions to the supply chain risk pricing Scottish seafood producers out of the market

Related tags Brexit Meat & Seafood Supply chain

UK seafood producers are being priced out of export markets by European competition, following continued delays at EU ports and poor preparation from Government, according to Scottish food trade bodies.

Calls for the Government to help resolve delays at the EU ports come as confusion over paperwork and IT issues keep dozens of lorry loads of fish from leaving Scotland, the trade groups say. The situation began as soon as Brexit regulations came into force on 1 January.

Leaders from Scotland’s salmon sector have united with counterparts in seafood and general food and drink sectors to urge ministers to appeal for a ‘lighter touch’ approach to help exports reach the continent.   

The UK Government is waiving many of the border checks which should be in place for imports to the UK. This was a move ministers should now work with their French counterparts to get a similar approach adopted for exports to the EU, the organisations said.

No time to prepare

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation chief executive Tavish Scott argued the difficulties now facing the industry could have been avoided if the industry had been given time to prepare for the new Brexit rules.

“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,” ​said Scott.

“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.”

Repeated calls

Members from all Scotland’s main food and drink bodies wrote to the Prime Minister in November appealing for a gradual implementation period for the new rules. This would have included a six-month ‘bedding-in’ period to get businesses adjusted to the changes.

Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce added: “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.”

Scotland Food & Drink chief executive James Withers said the challenges the industry faced were unsurprising and would continue in view of increased bureaucracy in getting goods out of the country.   

He pointed to the prioritisation of simpler loads of single types of seafood as the way forward to help ease congestion at the ports, a move that could be replicated by other members of the industry.

NI border chaos

“There is a major collective effort to work through all this between industry and government,” ​Withers explained. “That is critical because the knock-on effect of disruption is significant and can grind the seafood supply chain – from fishing boats to haulage – to a halt very quickly.

“On the back of a horrendous 2020 and a nightmare before Christmas due to the French border closure, the financial impact of that would be grave for many.”

While Scotland tackled seafood export challenges, disruption along the Irish border continued to inhibit Northern Ireland (NI)-GB trade.

Confusion surrounding new border requirements for moving goods to and from NI still plagues operations a week on from the end of the Brexit transition period.

Logistics UK has written to Michael Gove and Lord Agnew highlighting three requests from the logistics sector requiring urgent clarification to ensure goods could keep moving smoothly across the UK’s borders with the EU.

As director of policy Elizabeth de Jong explained: “We have asked for clearer communication of the administrative requirements, akin to the Border Operating Model for GB-EU trade. 

Derogations and mitigations

“We have also asked government to urgently apply simplifications and implement derogations and mitigations for all goods from NI to GB, and also to immediately restart the NI Protocol working groups, which do not yet appear to be functioning.”

Jong argued it was vital government stepped up communication with industry to ensure that loads can be dispatched with the correct paperwork and declarations.

Commenting on the NI border disruption, Charles Hogg – commercial director at logistics and customs broker Unsworth – added: “We are expecting queues to start building this week as more cargo is destined for the EU/ Ireland.

“We are already seeing genuine shortages in supermarkets as a result. Traders are still just not ready and HMG is just not doing enough to support them.”

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