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Scottish seafood exporters are facing post-Brexit bureaucratic barriers creating queues and confusion, a leading trade body has warned.
Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland – the national trade and marketing body for the sector – has warned of the damaging impact locally for failed exports to Europe.
It follows a Christmas dogged by problems at the UK and French border as a result of the coronavirus lockdown announced across London and the south east.
That was followed by the UK’s third lockdown becoming law in the first week of January.
Ms Fordyce said the end of the Brexit transition period had ‘unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion’.
She said: ‘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 front line. There have also been HMRC IT issues on the UK side that need to resolved as soon as possible 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 exporters are not transporting ‘toilet rolls’ but ‘high quality, perishable seafood’ which 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,’ she said.
‘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.’
Jamie McMillan, a Tarbet-based shellfish processor and managing director of family-run Loch Fyne Seafarms Ltd, has become a prominent critic of the problems facing the sector. He called the first week of the New Year an ‘absolute disaster’.
Mr McMillan said he had been ‘advised’ to stop exporting to the EU until the problems at UK transportation hubs and French customs had been solved.
Mr McMillan warned that it was probably going to put him ‘out of business’ as he had to pay the fishermen for the stock he had bought which he could not sell.
These included catches of ‘beautiful’ live lobster, hand-dived king scallops, brown crab, live langoustines and prawns.
Mr McMillan said: ‘Everything we’ve shipped this week, we’ve lost. The customers do not want the products, they are still sitting at customs in France.
‘We are going to have to tell our boats to stop fishing. We just can’t export to the EU anymore until this problem’s solved.’
Michael Russell, the Argyll and Bute MSP for the SNP, said: ‘The damaging outcome with which we are now faced is the result of a political choice by the UK Government, and firmly against the wishes of Scotland.
‘As a responsible government we are doing everything we can to mitigate against the consequences of the UK Government’s actions, but we cannot avert every negative outcome.
‘We know that businesses are already struggling under the burden of Covid-19, and are now faced with the need to prepare for the economic shock of this hard Brexit.’
Grant Shapps MP, transport secretary for the UK Government, said on Thursday: ‘I continue to urge all hauliers to get tested before getting to the border, and only travel if they test negative.
‘To help make this possible we are offering support to businesses to set-up testing facilities at their own premises, assisting the smooth passage of trucks and goods across the border, as well as setting up testing at information and advice sites around the country.’