French border reopens to UK cargo, but trade delays persist
The French government has ordered the reopening of border entries for cargo coming from the United Kingdom, but huge backups of trucks stuck in southeast England will likely mean seafood deliveries won’t make it to their destination in time for the Christmas holiday.
On the evening of Sunday, 20 December, France shut its border with the U.K. for 48 hours, citing concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. The border crossing was reopened on Wednesday, 23 December,
Seafood industry groups, including Seafood Scotland, are requesting priority for their perishable cargoes, but due to the complicated logistical situation, that might not be possible, Bloomberg reported. More than 3,000 trucks are stuck in England awaiting transfer to continental Europe, with most of those carrying seafood destined for France and Spain.
“We’ve been working on our plans but this is a rather unprecedented situation that’s evolved,” Port of Dover Chief Executive Doug Bannister said on Wednesday, 23 December. “We hope to get traffic moving at a good clip during the course of today.”
Seafood Scotland Chief Executive Donna Fordyce said it may be too late for some fresh seafood cargoes.
“The window wherein companies would be able to salvage anything from the last couple of days is now, to all intents and purposes, closed for premium seafood, which has been perishing by the roadside since Sunday night. Millions has been lost, much of it by small companies that were depending on this trade for survival,” she said. “From our conversations with insurance companies, no policies will cover these major losses, and without financial support from government, many companies that were relying on these crucial 48 hours of trading to replenish their cash flow will tragically go to the wall.”
Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation Chief Executive Tavish Scott said the delays will cost his members an estimated GBP 6.5 million (USD 8.8 million, EUR 7.2 million) before Christmas.
“We are deeply concerned by this extremely disruptive suspension of trade routes to France. Europe is a key market for Scottish salmon and we expect the government to explore all practical options for resuming trade, including the COVID-19 testing of drivers,” Scott said in a press release. “This is the busiest week of the year, with more than 150 tons of fresh Scottish salmon a day crossing the Channel to Europe.”
Scott said the border issue revealed the potentially even larger pain that awaits should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without border-transfer issues resolved.
“It is evident that the U.K. government must seek an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period,” Scott said. “This is the only pragmatic step to take during this unprecedented turn of events with Covid-19.”
Fordyce called for a grace period for U.K. seafood companies to figure out the new rules around international trade once Brexit becomes a reality.
“The last 48 hours has given us a terrifying insight into what the situation could be come 1 January. While passage may not be formally blocked by then, there remains a ‘red tape blockade’ which will likely have exactly the same impact as the last 48 hours,” she said. “U.K. seafood companies need a reasonable administrative grace period to enable them to put in place the paperwork, the nature of which won’t be clear until we have a deal, enabling them to work out how to trade across new hard borders. Without this, it could be weeks before trade starts again and by that time many businesses, jobs, families and communities will have already reached breaking point.”
On 23 December, the Financial Times reported U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen conducted secret negotiations on fishing access issues, a major sticking point in a final agreement that would avoid a no-deal exit of the U.K. from the E.U., slated to occur 1 January.
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