A government-industry taskforce that was set up to help Scottish seafood firms struggling to get their produce to the EU after Brexit is being disbanded.
It will meet for the last time in the coming weeks after making progress to improve export systems, the Scotland Office has announced.
The Scottish seafood exports taskforce, which brings together key industry figures from the fishing industry with officials and senior politicians from the UK Government and Scottish Government, met for the seventh time today (May 14).
Chairing the meeting, Scotland Office Minister David Duguid said the taskforce had tackled problems affecting the seafood sector since Brexit – many relating to the extra paperwork now required because Britain is no longer in the EU.
Speaking after the group’s latest discussions, Mr Duguid said: “This taskforce has been unusual as it has brought together industry experts from the catching, processing, exporting and aquaculture sectors, as well as three ministers from the UK Government and the Scottish Government.
“Rapid progress has been made in a variety of areas through this taskforce. In particular, we have considerably cut the amount of time staff spend filling in details on export health certificates, helping speed time-critical exports of our world-class seafood.”
Aim is to continue the ‘important dialogue’
The Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan added: “Although the taskforce has a fixed lifespan, we are looking at how we can continue this important dialogue.
“We want to maintain close contacts, though we appreciate people in the industry are busy.
“I am confident we can reach accord on ongoing discussions as we seek to maximise the opportunities for our key seafood sector.”
The taskforce grew from consultations with the industry during and after the Brexit transition period.
It was officially launched earlier this year after severe hold-ups left millions of pounds-worth of Scottish seafood destined for key markets such as France and Spain stuck in transit, both at distribution hubs in central Scotland and Channel crossing ports.
Anger over the delays, which are still happening following the introduction of post-Brexit red tape, prompted a protest convoy of seafood trucks through central London in January.
According to the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), representing fish farmers, the “significant” disruptions have not dented demand for this country’s biggest food export.
And the sector still managed to export a record amount of fresh fish to the EU during the first three months of this year, SSPO said.
A total of 19,410 tonnes of Scottish salmon, worth more than £100 million, made its way across the Channel to key markets on the continent, it added.
SSPO said this equated to a 74% year-on-year increase but “intense competition” meant the value did not increase at the same rate.
Export volumes to the EU may well be up for the first quarter of the year but increased delays in getting products to our EU markets have kept values low.”
Tavish Scott, SSPO
Tavish Scott, the organisation’s chief executive, said the additional bureaucracy, paperwork, delays and confusion arising from Brexit had left salmon farmers incurring costs of at least £11m but he remained confident that 2021 would be a strong year for the sector.
Mr Scott added: “This is a great result for the Scottish salmon farmers and the Scottish economy.
“As the country and companies start to bounce back from the huge problems presented by Covid these figures show the worth of the salmon sector as an economic driver for Scotland, aiding the country’s renewal through job creation and tax revenues.”
Salmon farmers remain vulnerable to the problems caused by Brexit,” Mr Scott said, adding: “Export volumes to the EU may well be up for the first quarter of the year but increased delays in getting products to our EU markets have kept values low.
“The SSPO will continue to work with the UK and Scottish governments to find ways to streamline red tape and ensure our members can offer their customers the certainty of getting fresh, nutritious fish to EU markets on time.”