“We are pleased the negotiators have at last secured a deal. This will alleviate some of the serious problems that would come from a no-deal Brexit,” said SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott in a press release.
“But we still have concerns. The disruption at the Channel right now (due to French concerns about a new variant of Covid-19 in the UK) is hitting our members’ ability to export. Brexit means the Scottish salmon sector now faces the reality of lots more red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork which are the reality of the extra trade barriers which come with Brexit.
“So, until we see how this UK-EU agreement actually works in practice, it is impossible to make a clear judgement on how the new trading arrangement in 2021 will affect salmon farming.”
Making the best of Brexit
The SSPO has long been of the view that non-tariff barriers – paperwork, EHCs, trucks being delayed on the journey to Europe – were more of a threat to the sector than a no-deal Brexit and tariffs that would have come with it.
The SSPO, the caught fish sector, the Scottish Government and South Lanarkshire Council have been working with transport company DFDS to create a seafood certification and export hub at the company’s Larkhall depot, where most of Scotland’s salmon is already exported from.
Food Standards Scotland has recruited three out of four new staff needed to meet the EHC requirements at Larkhall, with the fourth position expected to be filled soon after New Year. Temporary staff will be brought in to cover that position until it is filled permanently.
The SSPO has also lobbied for trucks carrying seafood to have priority access to cross-Channel routes. This has been accepted by the UK’s Department of Transport, which has made seafood one of just two product groups to have priority access after January 1. The other is day-old chicks.
Despite the SSPO’s efforts, other hurdles remain. These include a shortage of ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) international road haulage permits that will be required by UK-based drivers from January 1. ECMT permits are required by truck drivers from third-party countries, which the UK will be from January 1.
There is also a concern that delays will mean drivers will not be able to make the journey to Boulogne-sur-Mer within their permitted driving hours, meaning two drivers will be required instead of one. Prior to the delays of the last few days, drivers have been able to leave Larkhall, get through the Channel Tunnel and reach their destination in one shift.
The SSPO said that as seen in the last few days, transport disruption on either side of the Channel will result in salmon arriving late, or not at all, at the main market in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Commercially this will result in enforced discounts or lost sales to salmon farming companies.
The organisation is also concerned about the new Brexit requirement for tens of thousands of Export Health Certificates (EHCs) from January 1. It said salmon farmers have been assured there will be enough staff to process the extra paperwork, but that there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether arrangements will work as planned.
The cost of the extra EHCs to the sector is expected to be at least £1.3 million to the sector every year.
‘Omens are not good’
Scott said: “We need the new transport hub at Larkhall to process the majority of these export certificates swiftly and smoothly. Many organisations have put considerable efforts into ensuring this happens and we are very grateful for that.
“But salmon farming’s big worry remains the potential for disruption at the Channel. Salmon is a perishable product and any delay in getting the fish to our European markets will have serious consequences. If consignments end up being stuck in queues of traffic for hours, the knock-on effects on eventual market price can be severe. That is exactly what we have seen since Sunday. So, the omens are not good.
“It is up to the UK government to now deliver on their numerous promises that Brexit will help the economy. We are all watching.”
Scott said that the SSPO would be maintaining daily engagement with the governments in both Edinburgh and London on the sector’s behalf.