Scottish seafood processors have called for urgent action to end “the severe damage being done” to businesses exporting to the EU as a result of excessive red tape.
On the eve of the inaugural meeting of the new Scottish Seafood Exports Task Force, launched by the UK Government in response to post-Brexit trading woes, Scottish Seafood Association (SSA) chief executive Jimmy Buchan said: “We have had plenty of talking – now is the time for action.
“Processing businesses are on the brink due to the lack of progress that has been made in making the export trail leaner, cheaper and fit-for-purpose.
“We will judge the task force on the basis of whether it can deliver change that is real and tangible to our members.”
Mr Buchan also called for direct engagement with the European Commission, saying it was “doubly in the EU’s interests to resolve the situation”.
He added: “Firstly, there is demand in EU countries for our excellent seafood, so they will want the flow of imports to improve.
“Secondly, when the six-month grace period for EU imports into this country comes to an end, they will desire a system that operates smoothly.
“As seafood exporting businesses, we are interested in resolving the practicalities of this situation and not playing politics – we urgently need those in authority to take the same approach.”
We will judge the task force on the basis of whether it can deliver change that is real and tangible to our members.”
Jimmy Buchan, Scottish Seafood Association chief executive
SSA’s demands follow major disruption in January, when lorry-loads of seafood got stuck, both at logistics facilities in central Scotland and Channel crossing points, in a quagmire of new red tape created by Brexit.
It prompted a protest in central London, with dozens of HGVs from around the UK descending on the capital in defiance of Covid-19 lockdown rules.
Many firms have reported ongoing issues, particularly with exports of live seafood.
In a report to the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee, the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) said: “Throughout the Brexit process, as an organisation we warned… the ‘live’ market would prove extremely challenging.
“Whilst some were wringing their hands at the prospect of the UK becoming an independent coastal state, many of us in the ‘live’ markets expressed our concerns re possible tariffs and increased volumes of documentary requirements.
“Our concerns appear to have been lost in the fog of Brexit and sadly… ignored.
“Since New Year the situation can only be described as an extreme challenge for our fishermen and merchants alike.
“Thankfully, tariffs have not been an issue, however, documentation has become a nightmare, with the levels of documentary requirements becoming a farce.
“A pallet load can cost as much as £650 for documentation prior to reaching the market at Boulogne.”
SCFF said exporters were facing massive extra costs for getting their produce to key markets, adding: “Who is to pay for all these extra costs. The fishermen?
“As a result of the UK Government and prime minister only listening to the powerful trawl lobby, no one considered the consequences for the sustainable inshore fishery sector, which supports small communities around the Scottish coastline and counts for around 1,400 boats, and who sell a large proportion of their added value live products to Europe.
“The prime minister and close colleagues should meet with EU representatives and get this mess sorted forthwith.”
The UK Government recently announced applications were open for a £23million fund to compensate seafood exporters who lost money because of chaotic delays last month, but the Seafood Disruption Support Scheme only applies for losses incurred in January.
Scottish seafood chiefs have warned the scheme is of limited use because many firms do not qualify, or find it impossible to quantify their losses.
According to Seafood Scotland, a growing number of exporters have been forced to put their businesses “on ice”.
Environment Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice has acknowledged there is more work to do to help businesses suffering losses because of the delays and red tape.