MPs say export barriers must be tackled ‘urgently’

A cross-party group of UK MPs is calling for urgent action to tackle export red tape that has threatened the viability of many meat and seafood businesses.

In a report published today, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses “urgent concerns” for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium sized businesses.

EFRA’s report, Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU, calls for a pragmatic approach on the part of the UK government to seek agreement with the European Union on tackling the export barriers that have been in place since the end of the Brexit transition period, at the end of last year.

Since January, businesses exporting meat and seafood from the UK to the European Union have faced higher costs, more paperwork and delays that in some cases have led to whole shipments having to be disposed of.

The committee says: “Despite overcoming initial ‘teething problems’ the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.”

EFRA’s report calls for the UK government to:

  • as a matter of priority, seek agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates;
  • take a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters;
  • provide the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red-tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland; and
  • establish a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.

The MPs also say that the UK government’s decision not to impose controls on EU seafood and meat imports until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022, places UK producers at a competitive disadvantage in their home market.

EFRA Chair Nigel Parish MP said: “Even as ‘teething problems’ are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.

“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.”

The report also urges the Government to closely monitor the availability of certifying officers for environmental health certificates (EHCs), and to examine the role of public sector certifying services in other countries; and it calls for action to resolve the legal dispute with the European Commission which has made it difficult to export live bivalve molluscs to the EU.

The proposals have been welcomed by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. Tavish Scott,  Chief Executive of the SSPO, said the report should spur the UK government into action.

He said: “This report rightly identifies some of the main barriers which are hindering our members in getting product to the European market.

“There are thousands of customers in Europe who want Scottish salmon, who recognise its quality and provenance but who have faced delays and bureaucratic barriers since the full effects of Brexit were felt at the start of this year.

“If we are going to keep the customers we have and attract new ones we need to be as competitive as possible and that means cutting down the paperwork and making the process of getting salmon to the EU as easy, efficient and swift as possible.

“We call on the UK government to implement these recommendations in full to help us support the huge effort our members are making in keeping exports thriving.”

Tavish Scott