Fresh figures have revealed the devastating impact of Brexit, with UK seafood exports to the EU almost completely wiped out amid a £700 million hit.
Information published by the Office of National Statistics have revealed the fish and shellfish industries suffered a massive 83% drop in January.
‘There is no sugar-coating these statistics’
The devastation was laid bar when stark images showing the lack of packed boxes for sale at Peterhead’s fish market emerged.
Industry leaders have dismissed the drop being solely attributable to border issues at the beginning of the year as a result of the pandemic – though they still expect to see an uplift in February and March’s figures.
But James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, believes further negotiations are needed with the EU to reduce “red tape” or risk sales never recovering to their previous levels.
The crash in UK trade has not been seen in sales to non-EU markets, despite it being a global pandemic.”
James Withers, chief executive Scotland Food and Drink
He said: “There is no sugar-coating these statistics, they are grim.
“We know Covid has reduced demand and there was stockpiling of products before the end of the year, but right at the heart of this trade collapse is Brexit and the creation of huge, new, non-tariff trade barriers with our biggest export market.
“This simply can’t be talked away as a Covid issue.
“The crash in UK trade has not been seen in sales to non-EU markets, despite it being a global pandemic.
“Also, we did not see a fall like this at any point during the first lockdown.”
Brexit also has impact on meat and dairy exports
The figures from the ONS show the January impact in exports of all UK food and live animals, which include fish and other seafood, to the EU in the first month of Brexit to be £700 million.
The statistics include a massive 59% drop for the meat sector and a 50% reduction in sales for the dairy industry.
Seafood is Scotland’s largest export, only beaten by whisky, with sales to more than 100 countries worldwide.
*To our wonderful customers in Northern Ireland*
We are having to suspend deliveries to NI due to increased bureaucracy and much reduced options for shipping😢. We will continue to work hard to find a way to reinstatee this along with deliveries to the EU. Hope to be back soon
— Macbeths Butchers (@Macbeths) January 26, 2021
Concerns have been raised that sales to the EU have been made unviable amid extra costs that make exports too expensive for small shipments, with previously overnight shipments to France now taking three days.
The ONS figures show that all exports from the UK to the EU fell by £5.6 billion in January, the equivalent of a 41% fall, which it has suggested may be partly attributable to stockpiling ahead of Brexit.
In comparison, exports to non-EU countries increased by £0.2 billion, or 1.7%, during the same period.
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry, who is the SNP’s shadow international trade secretary, said: “Exports of Scottish food by small and medium-sized Scottish business have been especially hammered by the Brexit Scotland didn’t want and didn’t vote for.”