UK government blamed for seafood border disruptions

The inability of the U.K. government to establish a trade agreement with the E.U. well before the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, 2020, and a failure to include a bedding-in period that would have allowed exporters to adjust to the new demands, are the main reasons why seafood businesses are encountering disruptions at the border, according to Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.

On 24 December, negotiators from the E.U. and the U.K. reached an agreement on a new partnership, which set out the rules that have applied between the two parties since 1 January, 2021. It covers such areas as trade in goods and services, fisheries, ensuring a level playing field, internal security, and the U.K.’s participation in E.U. programs, Ewing said.

However, the past week has seen U.K. exporters face lengthy delays in moving goods to E.U. markets due to the new paperwork requirements laid out by the trade agreement and IT issues. This has caused considerable concern for those shipping perishable products, including seafood.

“The plain facts are these very serious problems have arisen because of Brexit and the U.K. government’s failure to agree to proposals about how to implement it – in particular the proposal for a six-month grace period in which teething issues and new systems could have been worked in,” Ewing said, following a meeting with seafood businesses and organizations on 12 January to discuss the ongoing issues affecting trade. “The costs to seafood and other businesses have already run in to millions of pounds in lost contracts, reduced prices for fish, extra costs, and lost custom. It is not acceptable for the U.K. government to expect businesses to bear these costs without providing any assistance.”

Ewing said the current delays should be “no surprise,” given the very short time businesses had to get their paperwork in order after the deal was struck.

“The Scottish government and Scottish food and drink stakeholders repeatedly warned the U.K. government that businesses needed time to effectively prepare for these fundamental changes. Expecting businesses – particularly small businesses – to get on top of the additional administrative burdens and costs would be a big ‘ask’ at the best of times, but to expect them to do so when they are reeling from the impact of the pandemic is simply unconscionable,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, it has also been reported that the U.K.’s major supermarkets have warned the government that an urgent intervention is needed to prevent disruption to food supplies to Northern Ireland, with the nation experiencing some shortages as retailers come to terms with the post-Brexit arrangements for importing food products from Britain. 

Since 31 December, Northern Ireland has remained part of the E.U.’s single market for goods, which means food products entering the market from the rest of the U.K. need to be certified and are subject to the new checks and controls at ports.

Those disruptions to the movement of food products from Britain to Northern Ireland have come despite a three-month grace period whereby supermarkets don't need to comply with all of the E.U.'s certification requirements.

Photo courtesy of Daniela Migliorisi/Shutterstock


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