Digital export certificates still a priority, insists UK Government
But costly Brexit paper trail stays in place as Defra works on broadening scope of electronic system
The UK Government has said that converting Export Health Certificates (EHCs) from paper to a digital format remains a “key priority”, despite a pilot programme that had been hailed as a success ending without electronic certificates (eEHCs) being introduced. Instead, the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) plans a second pilot next year to develop eEHCs for both the EU and other countries.
EHCs have been required for fish exports since the UK left the European Union and have cost the salmon industry an extra £2 million or more a year in administration costs, as well as delaying the export process.
Eight seafood companies, three distribution hubs, and three certifiers based in Scotland were involved in the pilot for eEHCs. They included salmon farmer Cooke Aquaculture Scotland.
The companies used both paper and eEHCs for comparison, but the paper EHCs remained the ones that had to be used at the French border.
Speaking to Fish Farmer magazine last year, when the pilot study was under way, Cooke’s supply chain manager Gillian Devine said the pilot which the company operated in collaboration with logistic business O’Toole Transport was “very encouraging”.
She said: “The same information is required but it is much more intuitive, better organised, and more user-friendly on the digital system – instead of up to 30 stamps on a paper copy, making sure to use the right colour of ink, it creates one digital signature saving so much time and removing the room for error.
“The transporter processes the documents for Food Standards Scotland’s environmental health officers, which can be uploaded on to the EU’s Traces system and produce the CHED-P (Common Health Entry Document) using a unique reference code produced by the digital EHC.”
An unqualified success
Devine told the magazine that this saved time and duplication of effort and would make it easier for EU customs officers and SIVEP (France’s veterinary and phytosanitary border inspection office) officials to find and process the export documents on their own system.
“We believe the pilot has been an unqualified success for all parties. [It is] subject to agreement between Defra, the French Government and the EU, but I believe this will help UK and EU to have a more sustainable process for the future,” said Devine.
In June, Tavish Scott, chief executive of sector trade body Salmon Scotland, joined Scotland Office minister John Lamont and UK fisheries minister Mark Spencer at Dover House, the London headquarters of the Scotland Office, for a cross-party event with MPs and officials.
At the event, Borders MP Lamont said Scottish salmon was a great British export success story, adding that: “The UK Government is determined to ensure it continues to enjoy a sustainable and profitable future.”
Fish Farming Expert contacted the Scotland Office to ask if Lamont thought that Defra’s delay is acceptable, and whether he intends to encourage Defra to give the issue a higher priority.
In response, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of smoothing high-value seafood exports, and eCertification for Health Export Certificates – a key priority for industry and the UK Government alike – builds on existing and ongoing work in this key area.
“We are committed to supporting a profitable and sustainable UK fishing and aquaculture industry and are working with businesses to help ease any administrative burdens for EU exports, including the digitisation of health certificates.”
The UK government pointed out that has always been the case that the first pilot would end with the intention of moving into a second phase of delivering fully digitised certification for exports.
“We will begin to test this new and improved service from early 2024 and will draw upon the feedback and insights learnt in the pilots. This will provide the capacity to send digital certificates to the European Union and further afield.”
First to volunteer
The delay in introducing eEHCs has frustrated Scotland’s seafood sector, including Salmon Scotland.
Scott said: “The sector is disappointed with the length of time this is taking, but we’re pleased there will be work to develop a global export system – and we’ll be the first to put our hands up and volunteer to help develop and test it.
“We want to do everything to avoid further delays and additional costs when it comes to exporting our world-famous salmon, which is in increasing demand across the globe.”
Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “I am disappointed that, more than a year after setting up a pilot programme to test a new, digital system, which would save the Scottish seafood industry hundreds of thousands of man hours in completing paper forms, we still have nothing more permanent in place.
“The pilot programme has been halted, with no sign of when this will be restarted. We would urge Defra to make this a priority to support seafood businesses so that they can export their highly perishable premium seafood in a nimble and efficient way as quickly as possible.”