Brokering a better Brexit deal

Port of Dover

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott says the coming general election is an opportunity to reset the UK’s relationship with the EU and smooth the vital flow of trade

The Brexit debate that so dominated our politics not so long ago has taken something of a backseat in the past couple of years.

But many challenges created by the UK’s departure from the European Union remain.

This year is a general election year and the party which forms the next UK Government will have an opportunity to review the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement which now governs our relationship with Europe.

And while the Scottish Parliament cannot directly impact that, it is rightly examining what needs done to help Scottish exporters.

At the end of March, I was invited to give evidence to Holyrood’s constitution committee on behalf of the producers and supply chain companies that make up our membership.

There is a headline figure about the impact of Brexit on the salmon industry, which you may have seen [see Sandy Neil’s report on page 42] – up to £100m in “lost” exports.

That is because, in 2019, there were more than 53,000 tonnes of Scottish salmon exported to the bloc, with the figure falling to 44,000 tonnes in 2023.

While strong global demand drove up prices, if the sector had maintained volumes at 2019 levels, then sales would have been above £430m.

So that means there has been a net “loss” of around £75m – or up to £100m had the sector grown at the rate previously expected.

Of course, there are other pressures on exports, which make a precise calculation hard.

So I was grateful to have the opportunity to discuss the situation in detail with MSPs.

I explained to them that the best way to understand this is by setting out the route that salmon takes from harvest on the west coast of Scotland or the islands all the way through the central belt to the Channel tunnel and then to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France.

That tight logistics route was made more challenging by the departure from the EU, both in terms of the time taken for journeys because of the extra paperwork we now have to comply with and in terms of the cost added to the business journey.

The other aspect is that we are competing with our colleagues in Norway, who will equally say that they can provide product to those marketplaces.

We have absorbed the extra costs, because that is what business has to do. But the fundamental issues that our members continue to face are bureaucracy, cost and time.

Scottish salmon farm

Scottish salmon farm

We need a better deal
The coming general election does, however, provide an opportunity to reset the relationship between the UK and the EU. I am supportive of anything that would lead to a better arrangement.

Facilitating improvements to the trade conditions with the EU will improve our international competitiveness and return some of the competitive advantage, reduce costs and increase efficiencies, which will help underpin future development and success of the sector among our coastal and rural communities.

So what needs to happen? We need the UK and EU to create a bespoke and mutually convenient sanitary and phytosanitary agreement, which returns efficiencies to supply chains on both sides of the Short Straits to help consumers and businesses in both territories.

Meanwhile, the lack of a new eCertification and issues with the current outdated system is costing salmon farmers millions of pounds every year.

Improving the certification programme should be an urgent priority for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials in Whitehall.

We are still challenged with exporting new, improved technology into the EU now that we are trading as a third country.

The opportunity to reduce packaging, increase efficiencies and make use of domestic transport solutions to the EU would be beneficial for the supply chain to both producers and customers.

In an attempt to progress both UK and EU objectives to reduce emissions, there should be a derogation or agreement on processes and practices to allow product into EU – this would improve quality and reduce environmental and carbon impacts, and would not necessitate EU regulatory change, which can be cumbersome and length in enacting.

More broadly, Salmon Scotland has written to all the major political parties with a series of manifesto asks.

We want to see a more enlightened approach to the movement of labour into the UK, which recognises the unique challenges our coastal and rural farming communities face, including a change to key worker definitions and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people coming here to work.

We want support for Scottish Salmon as a UK geographical indication and continued consumer protection against the passing off, or mislabelling, of products as seafood where no seafood is present.

And, above all, we want a serious, pragmatic approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU, with a clear focus on the nation’s export businesses, which depend on a positive, professional relationship with France and the other EU countries.

As I told MSPs, Iet there be no shadow of a doubt that I am optimistic about the future, not least because the demand for salmon worldwide is phenomenal – indeed, at times, Scotland nearly cannot keep up with it.

My view of the way things are going to go over the next five to 10 years is that, as long as we can sustainably grow in Scotland and implement some of the reforms that we have been working on with the Scottish Government, the marketplace will continue to be strong.

If we grow, we employ more people, we create more taxation income for the government, we create more local jobs in constituencies the length and breadth of the country, and we also grow our supply chain, which is highly significant now in terms of the money that goes back into the economy and fuels much-needed economic growth.

We are ready to do what we need to do to fulfil the ever-growing market need – and we need government support to remove any trade barriers to that growth.


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