The leaders of Scotland’s main seafood and food trade bodies have called on the UK Government to help resolve the delays to EU exports which are causing significant problems for the sector.
Scotland Food and Drink (SF&D), the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) and Seafood Scotland (SS) have made a joint appeal for a ‘lighter touch’ approach to help exports get through to the main European markets more smoothly.
Dozens of lorry loads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. Confusion over paperwork, the extra documentation needed and IT problems have all contributed to delays and hold-ups. There has also been a backlog of traffic to deal with as a result of France’s temporary travel ban introduced to slow the spread of a new Covid-19 variant.
The trade bodies had warned that a last-minute Brexit deal would create problems if there was no “grace period” to implement it. They now say the agreement, which was finalised by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve, just a week before the new regulations came into effect, gave businesses no time to prepare for the huge changes necessary to get produce to the continent.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the SSPO, said: “Had a deal been concluded even a couple of months ago, that would have given our producers and hauliers the time to test out the new systems, trial the paperwork and get everything in place.
“As it is, we have had lorry loads of salmon stuck in Scotland, waiting for the right paperwork, we have seen delays in France because of IT problems in bringing in whole new systems and confusion everywhere.
“Our members are resourceful and have been trying everything they can to get fish to customers in Europe, including new routes, but every delay forces the price of our product down and hands the initiative to our international competitors.”
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “All our producers have been working incredibly hard to work through all the extra red tape which has been put in place since January 1 but it is an almost impossible task given the lack of preparation time.
“The UK Government has to realise the enormous difficulties that have been placed in the way of exporters simply because there wasn’t a workable system in place by the end of Brexit transition, despite numerous warnings that there would be issues.”
James Withers, Chief Executive of SF&D, said: “For the last few months, we have been appealing to the UK Government to agree a grace period with the EU. We wanted to see the gradual implementation of the new Brexit trade rules, a six-month bedding-in period which would have allowed exporters and the EU to adjust to the new demands.
“Instead, we have had to cope with a cliff edge with everything changing on January 1. We warned this would lead to problems but our appeals for the grace period were ignored.”