Scottish Government calls for action on EHCs

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The Scottish Government has described the decision to end a testing programme that aims to cut red tape for exporters as “unacceptable”.

Earlier this month the UK Government announced that a beta test exercise for digital environmental health certificates (eEHCs) would be terminated. The European Union requires EHCs for animal-related products from outside the Single Market, including meat and seafood, and this aspect of export red tape has been a serious problem for the UK’s seafood industry post-Brexit. Paper-based EHCs have led to delays, costs, errors and in some cases the rejection of highly perishable consignments.

The eEHC beta scheme had been operated by Defra (the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) with the involvement of salmon producer Cooke Aquaculture, but earlier this month Defra informed Cooke that the scheme would be terminated.

Mairi Gougeon, Rural Affairs Secretary in the Scottish Government, has now written to UK Secretary of State for the Environment Therese Coffey to express disappointment that the pilot project has been terminated without a clear timeline for implementing eEHCs, and without consulting with or even informing the Scottish Government.

Gougeon also writes: “In your letter of 13th January, you stated that you hoped a comprehensive timeline for the project would be shareable soon. We are now seven months on; no timeline has been offered, and businesses now have further uncertainty in which to operate and to make investment decisions. This is unacceptable. The Scottish Government repeatedly warned the UK Government that our forced exit from the EU would be damaging to Scottish export businesses. Sadly, three years on, this remains the case and industry continues to face damage inflicted on it by UK Government decisions.”

The Scottish Government has long been opposed to Brexit, which it says has created severe difficulties for businesses in Scotland.

Gougeon concludes: “…outwith rejoining the EU and the single market and businesses having barrier and cost free access to the EU market, Digitisation has the opportunity to make the single biggest positive impact on industries’ ability to export. We therefore must see some progress with moving towards a fully operational and functioning eTrade system to give businesses in Scotland, across the UK, and in all sectors, the best chance to succeed in the challenging times we operate in.”

Defra told Fish Farmer last week that the scheme had not been shelved, but instead was moving to a second, improved phase in 2024. There has been no commitment yet as to when a fully functioning scheme can be rolled out.

Therese Coffey

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