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Trade body head speaks out

Calais migrant crisis ‘a danger to Scots food industry’

Calais migrants BBCThe head of trade body Scottish Food and Drink today warned that the migrant crisis at the Channel Tunnel could encourage European customers to switch to non-UK suppliers.

James Withers said the long delays to crossing over to Calais is causing fresh food products to be lost and putting a strain on relationships built up by Scottish companies.

He told a radio phone-in programme that it was becoming a problem and while he believed relationships with European buyers were resilient, there was a risk of them being broken if the situation is not resolved soon.

“They may find other suppliers who might take that business from our companies,” he said. Seafood products are said to be particularly affected.

His comments came as business groups increase pressure on the UK government to step up border security measures, claiming that the chaos in Calais will cause huge damage to the economy.

For weeks, industrial strikes and action by migrants have disrupted services through the French port, holding up trucks on both sides of the English Channel. In Kent, the France-bound side of the M20 motorway has been brought to a standstill under the so-called “Operation Stack” policy.

On Monday night, the chaos reached new heights as 1,500 migrants in Calais tried to storm the tunnel, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to call an emergency meeting of government ministers to address the issue.

Scottish businesses from the fishing and food processing sectors have raised concerns about spoiled goods and cancelled orders caused by the on-going situation.

The First Minister and Fisheries Secretary have already raised concerns with the UK Government and appealed for action to prioritise fresh produce being exported to the continent, which is one of Scotland largest food export markets.

Following an update from industry representatives, Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead spoke to the UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Office, Lord Tariq Ahmad, and called for the UK Government to implement a system for giving priority passage for lorries carrying perishable goods, such as seafood.

Mr Lochhead said: ” conveyed in the strongest possible terms the deeply damaging impact that this situation is having on Scottish businesses and, in particular, our seafood companies. Scottish seafood is in huge demand on the continent and beyond, and exports have to reach customers on time and in a fresh condition. But the continued disruption is resulting in businesses losing money and orders.

“The situation in Calais is clearly complex and requires a multi-agency response involving both UK and French authorities – but the longer it goes on, the higher the price Scottish exporters will have to pay.

“As well as a long term strategy which responds to the human and humanitarian issue around migration, we need action to address the immediate issue around getting vehicles and exports moving again.

“The Scottish Government stands ready to do what we can but the reality is that there are some practical steps the UK Government could take to ease the pressure on Scottish producers – in particular, prioritising the export of fresh, perishable produce – including over any empty lorries travelling back to the continent – and considering alternative ways of transporting food exports across the Channel.

“Scottish Ministers will continue to make the strongest possible representations to the UK Government and press it and the French authorities to work together to swiftly resolve these issues and the on-going situation regarding migrant incursions. Meanwhile, we will continue our close dialogue with the affected sectors in Scotland to see what practical steps the Scottish Government can take to minimise the impact, such as helping the industry identify alternative routes to market or modes of transport.”

Katja Hall, deputy director-general at the Confed­er­ation of British Industry (CBI) said the disruption at Calais “also has an economic impact as exporters are being delayed getting their goods to market”.

Hall’s comments came after the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said that the disruption was “having a severe effect on the UK economy, causing extreme frustration for small businesses – not only in Kent”.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) estimates that port delays on both sides of the Channel are costing the UK logistics industry £750,000 each day.

Photo: BBC

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