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Fergus Ewing says seafood firms should not have to bear the cost of Brexit

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has met key seafood businesses and organisations to discuss ongoing issues affecting trade.

Following the meeting, Mr Ewing said: “The plain facts are these very serious problems have arisen because of Brexit and the UK Government’s failure to agree to proposals about how to implement it – in particular the proposal for a six months grace period in which teething issues and new systems could have been worked in.

“The costs to seafood and other businesses have already run into millions of pounds in lost contracts, reduced prices for fish, extra costs and lost custom.

“It is not acceptable for the UK Government to expect businesses to bear these costs without providing any assistance.”

He added: “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 UK 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.”

Current delays should be no surprise given the very short time businesses had to get their paperwork in order.”

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing

Seafood exporters have encountered major hold-ups trying to get their produce to customers in mainland Europe.

Customs red tape has created a log-jam of trucks at a distribution facility in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, while compatibility issues between the UK and France have also reportedly caused delays.

The governments in Edinburgh and London have blamed each other.

Last week bosses at one of Scotland’s oldest smokehouses – royal warrant holder and two-time Queen’s Award winner John Ross Jr (Aberdeen), whose brick kilns have been used to process salmon since 1857 – accused the UK Government of “gross incompetence”.

The firm had perishable goods stuck in transit for nearly a week.

Responding last Friday, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the industry to help understand and address the issues they are experiencing.

“This includes ensuring that the UK and French systems are functioning properly to allow for quick and easy processing of information.

“We are contacting exporters, their representatives and transporters to help them understand the requirements to keep their goods moving.

“It is vital that exporters check they have entered in details correctly and ensure that they have provided the transporter of the goods with the correct documentation.”

We have given the Scottish Government nearly £200 million to prepare for leaving the EU.”

The spokesperson added: “We urge the Scottish Government to ensure they have appropriate staffing levels in place at hubs in their area to certify documentation and ensure there are no delays to food exports.

“We have given the Scottish Government nearly £200 million to prepare for leaving the EU, to minimise disruption and guarantee business readiness.”

Last night, Mr Ewing said: “I have regularly engaged with key seafood businesses and organisations, including hosting a meeting today with another follow-up session later this week, to make sure everyone knows what needs to be done to get products to key markets in the EU.

“Proper resourcing of the hubs is already in place and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has fulfilled all of the EHCs (export health certificates) asked for by businesses.

“To ensure that the likely rising demand for EHCs will continue to be met we are further increasing the number of vets at the hubs.

“FSS continues to work closely with export businesses and UK government departments to support exporters to arrive at ports fully prepared for inspections and the new export bureaucracy driven by Brexit.”

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