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George Eustice: Still more work to do to help struggling seafood firms

George Eustice
George Eustice

Last year, the UK and EU concluded a new Trade and Cooperation Agreement, establishing tariff-free trade in all goods.

Among other things, it sets a new relationship with the EU on fisheries, with a bilateral agreement in place for a term of five-and-a-half years.

It sets out sharing and access arrangements for that first period. The negotiations on fisheries were particularly challenging, but this marks an important step in the right direction.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve taken our independent seat at the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation.

In September we reached a partnership agreement with Norway, our most important partner on fishing interests and with whom we have responsibility for shared stocks in the North Sea.

We’ve also developed new bilateral arrangements with our other north-east Atlantic neighbours, including the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland.

This allows us to make our own laws again.”

In order to regain our independence from the EU, we needed to leave both the customs union and the single market, and replace them with a free trade agreement.

This allows us to make our own laws again, and means the European Court of Justice no longer has jurisdiction in the UK.

These changes have meant the introduction of additional administration for exporters, including things like customs declarations and export health certificates.

We worked closely with businesses throughout the transition period to help them prepare for change. Authorities in the EU, including in France and the Netherlands, have also had to adapt to these new processes.

‘Errors and problems’

Businesses involved in the export of highly perishable goods, such as fish, are more affected by delays at the border.

We have been working closely with businesses across Scotland to help them get used to the new procedures and tackle any initial errors and problems.

Many businesses have initially found this challenging, but the situation has got better over the last couple of weeks and the flow of goods is improving.

In January, we announced that exporters across the UK would receive government support worth up to £23 million in total, if they have faced a financial loss due to failures in EU import processes, in recognition of the impact of current disruption and delays to seafood exports to Europe.

We have now announced further details of the Seafood Disruption Support Scheme, which will be targeted at fishing export businesses who can evidence a genuine loss in exporting fish and shellfish to the EU.

The scheme, administered by the Marine Management Organisation on behalf of Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), is a UK-wide fund offering financial assistance based on a proportion of losses that can be verified up to a maximum of £100,000 per business.

Further support

In addition to this £23m, we are providing further support to businesses across Scotland in adapting to new export processes.

This means intensive, one-to-one support for fisheries businesses on the end-to-end export process, and a new training and guidance package.

We have been holding meetings with a wide range of businesses twice a week and dealing with individual problems as they arise to ensure that goods can get through.

A Scotland-specific task force has been set up by my colleagues in the Scotland Office to look at how we resolve longer term issues and capitalise on opportunities.

‘More to be done’

The position is improving but I know that there is more to be done. The five largest salmon producers in Scotland have been successfully sending consignments in recent weeks.

Other processors with experience of exporting to other countries have also mastered the process.

DFDS now report that lorries carrying a range of seafood are making deliveries from Scotland to Boulogne, with all customs processes complete, well within 24 hours.

The money that we have announced will benefit seafood exporters across Scotland, and we will continue to support them in the weeks and months ahead.

George Eustice is UK environment food and rural affairs secretary