SNP ‘hindering fish exports to score Brexit points’
Seafood exports are being held up
UPDATE 8 JAN: The SNP Government has been accused of deliberately causing hold-ups of export paperwork in order to pin the blame on Brexit.
Scottish Tories say the SNP is “not lifting a finger” to help Scottish fishing exports while the IT failures in the UK and France have been “quickly cleared up”.
The SNP hit back, blaming the Tories for failing to provide the promised “frictionless trade”.
Checks in Scotland are performed by Scottish Government agencies, and Jimmy Buchan of the Scottish Seafood Association said that a check that should take no more than one hour “is taking nearly five hours.”
He added: “The problem is definitely in Scotland, at the hubs prior to dispatch. It’s the one thing that we have continuously asked Government, are they ready? They kept asking us, were we ready? And we are ready, but it appears that Government are not.”
Scottish Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, David Duguid, said: “The Scottish Conservatives are working constructively, engaging with stakeholders and both of Scotland’s government to make sure our world-class fishing exports reach their destination as quickly as possible.
“The SNP don’t seem to be lifting a finger. How can they plausibly claim that Food Standards Scotland have enough resources when industry experts are telling us that checks in Scotland are taking five times as long as they should?
“It’s a sad fact that the government in Edinburgh are crossing their fingers and hoping for failure so they can try to score political points, instead of doing their job and giving the Scottish fishing industry all the necessary resources.
“Funding provided to the SNP for Brexit preparations, alongside funding for business support in general, have gone unspent. The SNP are doing the bare minimum and it’s creating huge issues.
“Teething problems were always going to happen but the lack of preparation on the SNP’s part is a disgrace. Processors have taken every care to ensure all their paperwork is in order yet still they face unacceptable delays – delays the Scottish Government must tackle as a matter of urgency.”
SNP MSP for Aberdeen South & North Kincardine, Maureen Watt, said the Tories had created the problem and were putting a prized industry in jeopardy.
“This time last year, sending high quality seafood from Scotland to markets in the EU was seamless and effortless. In less than a week, Brexit and the new rules for trading with our closest overseas neighbours, are causing some to stop trading altogether,” she said.
Fish exporters said the introduction of health certificates, customs declarations and other paperwork was making them unviable.
David Noble, whose Aegirfish buys from Scottish fleets to export to Europe, said he would have to pay between £500 to £600 per day for paperwork, wiping out most profit.
His concern is that this marks more than just teething problems, and says he cannot pass on the higher costs of doing business.
“I’m questioning whether to carry on,” he told the Reuters news agency on Friday. “If our fish is too expensive our customers will buy elsewhere.”
A seafood industries leader claimed there were still widespread problems at the French ports.
Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “The last 48 hours has really delivered what was expected – new bureaucratic non-tariff barriers, and no one body with the tools to be able to fix the situation.
Donna Fordyce: The problem is no longer hypothetical
“It’s a perfect storm for Scottish seafood exporters. Weakened by Covid-19, and the closure of the French border before Christmas, the end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion.
“IT problems in France meant consignments were diverted from Boulogne sur Mer to Dunkirk, which was unprepared as it wasn’t supposed to be at the export frontline. There have also been HMRC IT issues on the UK side that need to resolved ASAP regarding certification.
“A lack of knowledge and understanding of the required paperwork means some companies are ill prepared for the new checks, which are taking far longer because of the mistakes being uncovered.
“When the systems settle down, checks should be carried out on samples from each load but now entire consignments are having to be checked to satisfy requirements.”
Ms Fordyce added that the highest quality, perishable seafood has a finite window to get to markets in peak condition.
“If the window closes these consignments go to landfill,” she said.
“The knock-on effect of export falling over is that the fishing fleet will have little reason to go out. In a very short time we could see the destruction of a centuries old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy
“The problem is no longer hypothetical. It is happening right now. We are working with industry, Government, and other bodies to try to mop up the mess to allow trade to flow again. We are doing all we can to help companies get the paperwork done. It will take time to fix – which we know many seafood companies can’t afford right now.”
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “It has been a very challenging 72 hours with industry and the authorities adjusting new, complex trading rules without having had any time to properly test them.
“We have warned for months about the lack of preparation time for everyone involved and these problems sadly come as little surprise.
“There are now a lot of bureaucratic steps to navigate in getting product from Scotland into France and small delays at different points can quickly cause major problems for a set of products whose value relies on getting to European markets within 24 hours.
“We have been working very closely with Food Standards Scotland, Scottish Government and partners across industry to work through delays at Larkhall.
“The prioritisation of simpler loads of single types of seafood, such as salmon, will be a big step forward. That will allow the focus to switch to more complex loads such as those that contain different products and batches from different businesses.
“There is no doubt that some seafood companies are struggling with the new paperwork requirements, as we knew would be the case. This is slowing the checks that have to be undertaken by law before lorries can be despatched from Larkhall to the English ports.
“There have also been significant IT problems on the French side of the Channel. This has led to lorries being diverted to different border inspection points and then being held up. The French authorities assure us these systems are now fixed but this will need closely monitored over the coming days.
“There is a major collective effort to work through all this between industry and government. That is critical because the knock-on effect of disruption is significant and can grind the seafood supply chain – from fishing boats to haulage – to a halt very quickly.
James Withers: financial impact (pic: Terry Murden)
“On the back of a horrendous 2020 and a nightmare before Christmas due to the French border closure, the financial impact of that would be grave for many.”
The UK Government said that they were aware of a “small number” of issues around seafood due to information not being entered correctly.
A spokeswoman said: “Both the UK and French systems are working.
“We are contacting exporters, their representatives and transporters to help them understand the requirements and we will work closely with them 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.”
A comment is awaited from the Scottish Government.
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