Ministers have been warned new barriers facing small seafood and meat exporters could render them “unviable” as they raised the prospect of factories potentially being relocated to the EU.
In a new report, MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stressed that delaying checks on EU food coming into Great Britain had put domestic firms at a “competitive disadvantage”.
The committee highlighted businesses exporting seafood and meat have “faced substantial new red tape and checks at the border” — known as non-tariff barriers — since 1 January.
The committee also criticised the decision to delay controls on imports from the end of the Brexit transition period as “originally planned” to 1 October, with checks on the border only commencing from next year.
“This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers,” the MPs insisted.
The report stressed that despite overcoming initial “teething problems”, small seafood and meat export businesses face “could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU”.
Chair of the committee Neil Parish praised British businesses for acting with “incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood with the EU”.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy,” he said. “We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious repercussions for our producers”.
The Conservative MP warned: “Even as ‘teething problems’ are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the government takes steps to reduce these”.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.”
Labour sized on the report as evidence of the industry having been “sold out by ministers’ woeful lack of understanding and failure to disclose crucial information from the EU as far back as September 2019”.
In response to the report, a government spokesperson said: “The new timetable for introducing import checks is pragmatic and allows businesses more time to adjust as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.”
“We are providing the support that businesses need to adapt to our new trading relationship.
“This includes a £20 million SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) Brexit support fund, dedicated support for fishermen and seafood exporters, tripling the number of official certifiers to meet demand, and developing new digital trade platforms.”