Seafood exporters in Scotland have complained that “unnecessary” post-Brexit red tape is holding up lorry shipments of fresh fish to Europe.
Difficulties and errors in competing the forms that are now required for export to the EU and a shortage of vets to provide export health certificates, together with IT problems for the customs authorities in France, have been holding up consignments. It is taking longer to obtain export health certificates for both farmed salmon and vessel caught fish. The delays follow the chaos created by the pre-Christmas travel ban which was temporarily imposed by France response to increasing Covid-19 cases in the UK.
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said yesterday: “The last 48 hours has really delivered what was expected – new bureaucratic non-tariff barriers, and no one body with the tools to be able to fix the situation.
“It’s a perfect storm for Scottish seafood exporters. Weakened by Covid-19, and the closure of the French border before Christmas, the end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion.
“IT problems in France meant consignments were diverted from Boulogne-sur-Mer to Dunkirk, which was unprepared as it wasn’t supposed to be at the export frontline. There have also been HMRC IT issues on the UK side that need to resolved ASAP regarding certification. A lack of knowledge and understanding of the required paperwork means some companies are ill prepared for the new checks, which are taking far longer because of the mistakes being uncovered. When the systems settle down, checks should be carried out on samples from each load but now entire consignments are having to be checked to satisfy requirements.”
Many of the problems are at inland locations in Scotland rather than at port entry points, but there have also been a number of issues around Dunkirk on the other side of the Channel. Some drivers have been forced to wait for more than 24 hours while lengthy checks are carried out.
Jimmy Buchan, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, which represents Scottish processors, said he was extremely disappointed that his members were being affected by delay problems caused by customs barcodes and a lack of veterinary service facilities.
Seafood shipments to Europe encountered severe delays in the run-up to Christmas because lorry drivers were made to take Covid tests before they could enter France.
It had been hoped – probably too optimistically – that the last minute Brexit deal on Christmas Eve would have smoothed out most regulatory issues.
The entire contents of vehicles are being examined rather than just samples, which many feared might happen.
Jimmy Buchan said the fact that computer problems were occurring on both sides of the Channel was a worrying sign for the future when the pace of trade was likely to increase.
“Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked,” he added.
Jamie McMillan, the managing director of Loch Fyne Seafarms and Loch Fyne Langoustine vented his frustrations on social media a few days ago saying that for the first time in nine years the company had not been able to gets its products into the EU.
He complained that because Argyll and Bute Council was closed down over the two-day New Year holiday it had not given approval to his transport company in Glasgow that Loch Fyne was on the approved list to send goods to Europe.
Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said he understood that this was a time consuming and costly time for Scottish businesses.
He said: “We have been working with logistics companies to provide an EHC (export health certificate) service at a number of central Scotland logistics hubs, thereby reducing the burden on local authorities.
“We are all learning – including businesses – how to manage the considerable burden of this new bureaucracy on exporting food products.
“We warned the UK Government that we needed much more clarity much sooner than we got on what the export process would involve after the transition period ended and that its plans to leave the single market would create barriers like this.”
A spokesperson for the SSPO commented: “It was always to be expected that there would some initial problems, simply because of the huge increase in paperwork needed to comply with the new rules of Brexit, which came into force after January 1. Salmon producers have had to cope with delays, both in the UK and in Europe, as the new system has bedded in.
“We have been in daily contact with the UK and Scottish governments and the French authorities and we hope these initial issues will be resolved very soon.”
Seafood Scotland’s Fordyce stressed: “These businesses are not transporting toilet rolls or widgets. They are exporting the highest quality, perishable seafood which has a finite window to get to markets in peak condition. If the window closes these consignments go to landfill. The knock-on effect of export falling over is that the fishing fleet will have little reason to go out. In a very short time we could see the destruction of a centuries old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy.
“The problem is no longer hypothetical. It is happening right now. We are working with industry, Government, and other bodies to try to mop up the mess to allow trade to flow again. We are doing all we can to help companies get the paperwork done. It will take time to fix – which we know many seafood companies can’t afford right now.”