Scottish food boss: export obstacles in next 2 months “could be worse than January”

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Scottish food boss: export obstacles in next 2 months “could be worse than January”

In an interview broadcast on LBC Radio, Scotland Food & Drink CEO James Withers has warned that February and March could be worse for UK exporters than January was.

In the first four weeks since the end of Brexit transition period, UK food exporters have been hit with myriad of red tape that’s delayed EU exports and seen some goods rot at the border. Industries exporting fish, meat and dairy products have been greatly affected in particular.

When asked for his thoughts on the current state of play one month into the new trading arrangements, Withers said that trade with the EU had had become “costly, very complex and a lot slower”:

One month into this post Brexit world and the reality is that doing business with our most important international market, the EU, has become costly, very complex and a lot slower. And for some of our most iconic food products that have to get from Scotland to markets in France and Spain within 12 to 24 hours, it means it’s been a horrendous first few weeks for a lot of food and drink exporters.

During the interview, the Scotland Food & Drink boss also described the task force approved by Michael Gove as being “critical” due to some of the extra checks that are to enter into force soon. He nonetheless warned that if action isn’t taken now, the problems for exporters in the coming weeks could get even worse:

Michael Gove has now accepted the industry’s request to set up a task force to look at making things better. And that is going to be critical because there are more pressures coming down the line. Freight volumes are not yet at their normal levels, we’ve got more products that are due to come under the new EU controls, we’re going to see new checks coming in for ingredients and other products coming into the UK. And we’re going to see some of the grace periods for movements across the Irish Sea into Northern Ireland. And all that means that we’re going to have to do work now or else February and March could be even worse than January has been.

A lot of the warnings from industry before the end of the Brexit transition period were branded as “project fear”. However, Withers argues that the events of January prove a number of predictions have “been borne out”:

We had warned the UK Government in the run up to the end of the transition period in 2020 that border control points weren’t ready, companies weren’t ready, IT systems weren’t ready, logistic companies weren’t ready. And unfortunately, that has all been borne out in a pretty horrendous first few weeks of 2021. We’re going to have to get improvements, we’re going to have to get systems fixed, because we sell 1.2 billion pounds of Scottish food into the European market. And without these fixes that number is going to drop dramatically.

Worryingly, Withers believes that there will be “impact in communities” and “lost jobs” unless a more frictionless form of trade between the EU and the UK can be worked out:

A lot of smaller companies who have built their business around supplying into the European market, many of them are now questioning their future. We’re going to have to see action, we’re going to have to see the UK Government working with the European Commission to see if we can find a way of continuing this trade. Our customers in Europe still want our products, but in a way that doesn’t involve crippling red tape. Otherwise we will feel the impact in communities across Scotland and lost jobs.

A solution of the type referred to by the CEO of Scotland Food and Drink would likely entail changes to the EU-UK trade deal, something neither party seems willing to undertake at this moment in time. Therefore, unless a highly effective digital system or application can be made to simplify paperwork procedures, the situation appears unlikely to change significantly.

Meanwhile, one of the Scottish companies who have faced export issues are MacDuff 1890, a representative of whom was also recently interviewed by LBC’s Alan Zycinski.

Andrew MacDuff, who co-runs the company with his father, said yesterday that he has faced huge difficulties exporting due to logistics companies being unable to offer groupage. MacDuff added that he is currently unable to export at all, despite getting enquiries from clients in Germany.

Photo Credit: D. R. Collin & Son Ltd

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