Blog: Government let down seafood exporters after Brexit, damning report finds – Cornwall Live

The Government did not provide seafood exporters with the appropriate support to prepare for Brexit changes, a damning report has found.

It also says the Government failed to prepare for exports to the European Union after Brexit to run smoothly. The issues led to delays and increased costs for those who usually export seafood to the EU, including fishermen from Devon and Cornwall.

The 41-page report, called Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU, has been made public today.

It was put together by the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – which Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, and Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives are a part of.

The UK officially left the EU in January 2020. Following a transition year, new rules came into force in January 2021 in how British businesses export seafood and other produces to the EU.

Extra paperwork, health checks and costs have created delays and uncertainty to the export process, the report explains.

It means that exporters have faced financial losses and smaller businesses in particular have been impacted.

The report also states that the Government should have worked with the rest of the EU to test arrangements and potential issues exporters could face before the new rules came into force on January 1.

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It reads: “Although there have undoubtedly been ‘teething issues’, there has also been a structural change in how British businesses export produce to the EU since 1 January. The substantial new paperwork, and checks at the EU border, have added costs, delays and uncertainty to the export process for highly time-sensitive seafood and meat exports.

“We believe that insufficient priority was given by the Government to reaching a deal on minimising or removing the need for SPS checks [note: SPS checks are import controls] in the TCA [Trade and Cooperation Agreement].”

Newlyn Harbour
(Image: Newlyn Harbour Commissioners)

The committee added that British businesses are at a “competitive disadvantage” as EU food coming into the UK does not have to go through the same checks as British food going to the EU.

Controls on imports are expected to start on October 1, with checks at 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 committee explained.

Neil Parish, the committee chairman, added: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.

“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy.

“We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.

“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.”

The committee also identified several issues with the way export health certificates (EHC) – official documents that confirms exports meets the health requirements of the destination country- are delivered.

It suggested the Government should push for the certificates to be digitised to save time and reduce costs and that a public sector service of full-time certifying officers should be created.

The MPs on the committee are also encouraging the creation of a new fund to support with costs of exporting as EHCs are generating extra costs for exporters and impacting smaller businesses.

MPs recommended taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters, including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters.

They also pushed for the creation of a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which would allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load and thereby reducing transport costs for shipments across the Channel.

Companies in Devon and Cornwall have reported being impacted by Brexit and the new rules that came with it.

In Cornwall, there were fears the historic Fal Fishery oyster trade would face ruin when it became apparent that oyster fishermen would no longer be able to export bivalve species (oysters, scallops, mussels, cockles and clams) from Class B waters to the EU without being depurated – cleansed of impurities – or processed to a finished ready-to-eat product.

Thomas Duane, of wholesale fish and shellfish business Falcatch, said the company had to figure its way around export health certificates, catch certificates, getting a UK export agent plus a French import agent, customs rep and fiscal rep.

“The biggest issue once we figured our way around all that was that we, like most exporters, didn’t know about and had no government guidance on the need for a French VAT number to trade directly with our French customers which would take six to eight weeks to receive,” he added.

With the help of Cornwall Council and Falmouth Port Health Authority, Falcatch had its depuration tanks approved for cleaning scallops and oysters. As a result, it made its first export on February 10. Mr Duane thinks his company may have been the first in Britain to export oysters to the EU.

Falcatch has started exporting oysters and other bivalve shellfish to the EU

He told Cornwall Live: “Brexit has made exporting a lot more complicated and expensive but not impossible if you have a backbone and determination.”

But for Andy Trust, owner of Ocean Harvest in Looe, the export costs are a “kick in the teeth” for local fishermen.

Mr Trust has had to stop exporting to Europe because of high costs and red tape brought on by Brexit. He said in a normal year around 30 per cent of his company’s sales would be exports markets in France, Spain and Italy.

“The cost of red tape is just too expensive,” he said, “You can’t sell there as a smaller merchant.

“For the last 20 years you could put fish in a box, load it into a lorry and off it goes. Now, it’s getting pulled up in Boulogne and turned away for the smallest thing.

“They’re inspecting it, with lorries delayed for three, four, even ten hours – if the fish even make it at all. It’s been a kick in the teeth.”

According to Mr Trust, a 200kg shipment to the EU used to cost him around £70 in fees. Now it’s closer to £220, which he said is not worth shipping.

Andy Trust said he, alongside much of the the fishing industry, shot himself in the foot by voting for Brexit.
(Image: Andy Trust)

His cousin, Ian Perkes, in Brixham, previously said he was having similar problems with his own fishing business, explaining his regrets regarding voting for Brexit.

“The reality is we’re now January 20, we’ve yet to send a consignment to Europe from Brixham. It’s just been an absolute nightmare,” he said.

“Forty four years I’ve been selling fish and overnight it’s pretty much been destroyed. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Data shows that there has been a significant fall in the number of seafood and fish exports to the EU.

In March, the Office for National Statistics highlighted a 64% decrease in exports of food and live animals – which include seafood and fish.

According to the most recent figures and the Food and Drink Federation, food and drink exports had fallen by more than 40% between February 2020 and February 2021.

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