Food and drink chief hopeful of Brexit grace deal
James Withers: the Brexit transition period hasn’t actually happened (pic: Terry Murden)
Food and drink industry leader James Withers remains hopeful that the UK government will agree to ease regulations allowing firms to adjust to new Brexit trading rules.
With only a month until the end of the transition period, nearly three quarters of Scotland’s food and drink industry (72%) feel unprepared for Brexit and any resulting disruption, according to Scotland Food and Drink.
Its findings come ahead of talks between with DEFRA Minister Victoria Prentice on Tuesday to discuss a letter sent to the Prime Minister seeking urgent action and assurances around trading arrangements in the new year.
With many of the new trading rules still unknown, coupled with businesses desperately fighting to survive the impact of the pandemic, the industry has called for a six-month grace period to adjust to the new trading rules, in particular on the requirement to issue millions of new export certificates for food products.
Other UK & NI business groups, including the CBI, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, and the Food and Drink Federation Cymru have echoed the call.
Whisky: a big export market
They also want a package of financial compensation for producers, processors, manufacturers and distributors who encounter losses as a direct result of border or market disruption.
The EU is the destination for 70% of Scotland’s food exports and the largest market for Scotch whisky. It is estimated that food and drink exports are four times more important to the Scottish economy than to the English economy.
However, a survey of Scotland Food & Drink’s members shows that 64% of Scotland’s food and drink businesses think growing sales in export markets over the next few years will be a key challenge.
Mr Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “With only one month to go until the end of transition, Scotland’s food and drink industry finds itself in a perilous position.
“Without the reassurances we have asked for, particularly the six month grace period on export paperwork, there is huge concern among our members and the wider industry that the impact of Brexit could cost millions and tip many businesses over the edge.
“In reality, the Brexit transition period hasn’t actually happened. Businesses have had to focus on surviving the Covid-19 pandemic and, with one month to go, we still don’t know what exactly we’re preparing for.
“Is it a deal or no deal? Even without the added financial and logistical pressures of Coronavirus, preparing for a completely unknown set of trading regulations and the biggest trading upheaval of a generation is a hugely challenging ask.
“At a time when our industry is still struggling with the £3 billion hit of Coronavirus, we now risk putting businesses to the wall by not providing time to implement the new regulations. It is unacceptable and entirely avoidable.
“We remain hopeful that the UK Government is not underestimating the scale of the problem and that we can reach agreement on the constructive support measures requested.”