In a letter to Eustice, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee seeks clarity about the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs's (DEFRA's) £23m compensation fund for fish exporters.
The letter asks DEFRA to set out the arrangements to help businesses access much-needed financial support quickly. The House of Commons Committee also asks for estimates of the cost to date to UK food businesses caused by border issues and delays.
The Committee also asks Eustice when more details of the eligibility criteria and claims process for the £23m fund, which was announced on 20 January, would be published and where the cash would be coming from.
In addition, it seeks to know whether DEFRA had estimated the costs to date for seafood and meat businesses of export cargo losses, additional non-tariff barriers and lower market prices paid to UK producers as a result of higher export charges.
An EFRA Committee announcement on 29 January stated meat and seafood exports to the EU had been disrupted since the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January. Businesses of all sizes had reported losing money and trade due to bureaucratic border processes, it recognised.
The inquiry's launch follows a 27 January briefing of the Committee by DEFRA secretary of state Eustice.
Government action plans
The broader inquiry, which has begun accepting written evidence, will explore long- and short-term action plans for exports to the EU. It will also scrutinise the Government's immediate response to disruptions over the past month. The Committee is also asking questions of the UK's preparedness for checking food imports from the EU later this year, and what lessons have been learnt from the last month.
EFRA Committee chair Neil Parish MP said: "A month of delays, disruption and red tape have meant food export businesses large and small have lost many tens of thousands of pounds. This needs to be gripped by the Government at the highest level before businesses go to the wall.
"While news of the compensation fund for fish is welcome, we need details, and fast. It's time for the Government to get its act together and set out short, medium and long-term action plans for how it will support British food exporters. It is also clear that systems need to be streamlined, businesses supported, and mitigation plans made ahead of upcoming checks on food imports."
The Committee has set an initial inquiry deadline of 19 February for feedback from all relevant parties.
- Which seafood and meat exports have been particularly affected by border delays and disruptions since 1 January, and why?
- What impact have delays and non-tariff barriers on seafood and meat exports to the EU had on UK businesses?
- What are the medium to long-term implications of the non-tariff barriers for UK exporters and supply chains?
- What steps should the UK Government take to mitigate these issues? What should its short and long-term priorities for action be?
- How effective and timely will the Government’s proposed £23m support package for seafood exporters be?
- How useful and responsive were the guidance and support provided by the Government to business, before and since 1 January?
- What can the UK learn from other countries who export food to the EU?
- How ready is the UK to introduce checks on food imports from the EU during 2021, and are there lessons to be learnt from the issues that UK exporters have faced?
Meanwhile, Seafood Scotland is appointing a team of specialists to help tackle the post-Brexit administration issues that have dogged trade to Europe over the past four weeks. The team is funded through the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Food and Drink’s joint Recovery Plan.
Alastair Kennedy, director of Lornal Consultancy, and Steve Galloway, founder and managing director at management consultancy Galloway & Associates, have already been confirmed as part of the team. Kennedy has previously held senior posts at reduced sodium salt supplier Kencryst and sausage casings firm Devro. Galloway's background includes consultancy and marketing.
Kennedy said: “Having worked in the seafood sector for the last eight years, I know it is full of talented, passionate people who have had a really tough time of it over the last year. The seafood they produce is world-class and it will be truly rewarding to help get it back into Europe – a market that highly values its quality. There’s a lot of work to be done but many of the issues the sector currently face are resolvable and I look forward to playing a part in making this happen.”
In addition to the domestic team, Seafood Scotland also hopes to appoint a Boulogne-sur-Mer consultant in the coming days to help give on the ground support from a European standpoint.
Seafood sector 'devastated'
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The seafood sector has been devastated by this poor Brexit deal and we cannot wait for the UK Government to solve the administrative problems they have created.
“Our focus is on resolving the issues around exports and making sure the process runs as smoothly as possible which is why as an immediate priority, we are funding these new posts to provide in-depth expert support to exporters across Scotland and help them navigate the new and onerous processes.
"We continue to back calls from our food and drink businesses for a six-month ‘grace period’ to allow exporters more time to digest the outcome of negotiations on a trade deal and prepare as best as they can.”