UK introduces tariff on Russian whitefish

A man cutting into a plate of fish and chips.

Details of the U.K. government’s latest round of sanctions against Russia in the wake of its Ukraine invasion have been released, with the measures including an additional 35 percent tariff on Russian whitefish imports.

This tariff was originally announced in March 2022, but wasn’t confirmed until 19 July. The additional duties came into effect Wednesday, 20 July.

The tariffs will affect direct seafood imports of Russian origin, with fish caught by Russian vessels and shipped directly to the United Kingdom being regarded as Russian-origin, and therefore subject to the additional duties. However, Russian-caught products that are substantively processed in another country are not considered Russian origin, and as such are not expected to incur additional tariffs.

According to U.K. seafood public body Seafish, freezing and portioning do not by themselves constitute substantial processing. Filleting and pin-boning, whether manual or mechanical, go beyond the simple operation of cutting up, and they may be classified as substantial manufacturing processes. Similarly, vacuum-packing is a process that goes beyond a simple packaging operation because of the need for specialized equipment.

Meanwhile, any consignments that have already cleared Russian or Belarusian customs and are en route to the United Kingdom will be unaffected.

In a statement, Seafish Director of Operations Aoife Martin said the implementation of the 35 percent tariff was paused to allow work to be undertaken to understand likely impacts on the seafood sector and that ministers are implementing the tariff now in consultation with the industry.

“As the tariff sanction has been long signposted, many seafood businesses have already been looking at alternative options, but any businesses still importing seafood direct from Russian will be impacted when the tariff comes into force next week,” Martin said.

Martin said the United Kingdom has a huge dependence on whitefish imports, with the country’s fleet landing about 47,000 metric tons (MT) of cod and haddock in 2020, while seafood businesses imported over 430,000 MT of whitefish.

“Russia controls 45 percent of the global whitefish supply, so removing this fish from our seafood supply chain will have impacts as businesses try to find alternative sources of supply,” Martin said.  “Consumers can expect to see different species in their local fish-and-chip shop. Unfortunately, seafood prices may also have to rise.”

The businesses poised to be hit the hardest by the tariffs are the U.K.’s fish-and-chip shops, which have already been struggling under rising inflation that has forced price increases. In May, London insolvency firm CompanyDebt estimated that up to one-third of all fish-and-chip shops in the U.K. could close within the year, and launched a campaign titled “Save The Great British Fish-and-Chip Shop” to try and help the industry.

Despite the direct impacts that the tariffs are likely to have on fish-and-chip shops, National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) President Andrew Crook published a post on the organization’s website saying the fish-and-chip industry has to support the tariff action if the government feels it is the right way to go. Crook said he came to that conclusion after numerous meetings with the U.K. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

“As ever, we will get behind anything that helps brings this conflict to a speedy conclusion,” Cook wrote. “They are banning or applying tariff to almost everything coming out of Russia, so fish has not been singled out.”

Crook said NFFF has a commitment from U.K. Minister of State Victoria Prentis to arrange up a meeting between the federation, suppliers, the U.K. Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to discuss what can be done to support the fish-and-chip sector “as they know the impact this is likely to be."

“We hoped this had been kicked down the road indefinitely, but we have to face up to this now and find a way forward,” Crook said. “The NFFF will continue to fight for the sector.”  

Photo courtesy of Alena Veasey/Shutterstock


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