The trade body for the UK’s biggest fresh food export warned that changes to the Northern Ireland protocol – spelt out by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss this afternoon - could undo the hard work of the sector to drive up exports to the EU in recent months.
Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott wrote in his letter to Boris Johnson: ‘Any deterioration in relationships between London and Brussels which leads to friction at the border, delays and queues for hauliers crossing to France, or extra costs for our exporters, could put us back to where we were at the start of last year when exports were in chaos.’
Scottish salmon sales to the EU were worth £372 million in 2021 – accounting for 61% of global Scottish salmon exports.
The sector directly employs 2,500 people in Scotland and supports more than 3,600 suppliers, with 10,000 jobs dependent on farmed salmon.
Ministers are seeking to amend the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit agreement designed to prevent the return of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU, and Northern Ireland. The potential amendment has sparked concerns of retaliatory action by the EU.
The protocol works by keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, something that has entailed new checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Following elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month, the second largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said it would not nominate ministers to form a new executive in Northern Ireland until its concerns with the protocol were resolved.
Scott wrote to Number 10: ‘The last 18 months have been tough for UK exporters, with fresh border checks, extra paperwork and confusion all adding to costs and delays. We, in the Scottish salmon sector, know that only too well given that more salmon is exported from the UK than any other fresh food product.
‘But we are now navigating the rough waters of Brexit more successfully. Through considerable effort and a willingness to adapt, we have eased the burdens down to a manageable level. Indeed, our producers are now exporting more to the EU than ever before.’
Salmon Scotland has been working with Defra on the full digitisation of the certification scheme for exports to the EU, which will make it easier for exporters to get their goods to the continent. All the good work could unravel, however, in the event of a trade war with Europe, said Scott.
‘That is why I, on behalf of our exporters and the 12,000 people who rely on Scottish salmon for their livelihoods, am appealing to you and your government to step back from any sort of confrontation with the EU on trade.
‘That would cause problems at any time but, when the country is facing a cost-of-living crisis, when inflation is rising rapidly and when the war in Ukraine is putting considerable strain on the availability of key food stuffs, such a dispute could be very damaging.
‘We are urging you today not to do anything that puts the UK on a collision course with Europe. That really is the last thing our exporters need at this time.’