Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce said: “The sector is at rock-bottom and needs space to breathe. Trying to navigate the system we have at the moment is like pushing water uphill, and it is not improving.
“Getting anything out of the UK into the EU is being achieved by luck rather than design. In the meantime, businesses that have been operating for generations, the people that work for them, and their families and communities are bearing the brunt of the issues.”
Fordyce acknowledged the hard work made to help companies meet the requirements to export, but warned that deep down the UK system was flawed and needed fixing.
“This cannot be done while it is live,” she added. “This was inevitable, given such a complicated process was put together at the last minute. With some breathing space, the system can be fixed and rebooted, and companies will then be able to keep moving.”
The UK Government has been urged to provide Scotland’s food and drink sector with compensation to help tackle the disruption caused by current trade issues – further agitated by the continued pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing claimed the relationship negotiated by the UK Government with the EU has had a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry. He said the situation had only gone from bad to worse.
In a letter to the secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice, Ewing said: “It is the UK Government who refused the industry request for a six months grace period in which these untried systems could have been worked out and problems solved without commercial loss.
“It is incompetence in the extreme to fail to follow such an approach when the systems and paperwork are so complex. Ultimately it is the UK Government’s choices which have resulted in these impacts.”
Troubles at the ports have also had a knock-on effect on other areas of the food and drink industry, with pork processors facing significant delays as a result.
Excessive bureaucracy associated with new paperwork requirements causing delays at the ports had made UK pork products undesirable to buyers in the UK, claimed the NPA. As a result, processors have been forced to reject shipments and cancel future orders.
While some delays were to be expected in the wake of Brexit, NPA chief executive Zoe Davies questioned if there were other powers in play hampering UK exports.
“We always knew it would mean more red tape, checks and delays,” she explained. “But there is a political element, too. Why are 30% of all UK consignments to the EU being checked? This is far more than many other Third Country exporters to the EU - for New Zealand, for example, the figure is 1%.”
Even before goods arrive at the port, processors are being bogged down with additional paperwork. One processor reported spending nine hours the prepare paperwork for just one shipment to the EU.
Technical limitations have also caused delays, with some paperwork having to be manually stamped before a shipment is allowed to pass into the EU. The lack of a digital option meant that one 15 tonne load’s paperwork had to be physically stamped 72 times, said one supplier.
“If this trade grinds to a standstill, on top of the COVID issues, we are going to see some serious problems across the sector,” Davies continued.
“The Government does not appear to think there is a problem. The clear message we are receiving from our processors is that there is – and we want to see some concerted action and political will to speed the processes up on both sides, with greater priority given to perishable products, such as pork.”