Call for help with crippling food export costs post-Brexit

A call has been made for the UK government to address the “crippling cost” of bureaucracy in the form of paperwork and physical inspections facing those involved in exporting food and agricultural produce to the continent.

The friction, delay, losses and extra costs which are currently plaguing exporters were slammed by NFU Scotland in a letter to the new Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost, as the union called for a major simplification of the extensive sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) border controls placed on products of animal or plant origin to be made a priority.

And the union also highlighted the major failure which the trade deal with the EU was currently having on the £13.5 million seed potato trade with mainland Europe, where annual sales of 30,000 tonnes of the crop had now been brought to a complete halt.

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NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “Whether it is seed potatoes, plants or livestock, many of the export difficulties being experienced stem from the compliance needs associated with export health certificates and customs declarations.

“The extra cost and time levied by these compliance requirements present a new, and possibly permanent, hindrance to trade unless rectified.

He said that at a “bare minimum” immediate priority should be given to streamlining the many forms and processes which required “hard copies and wet signatures” and to move back to an electronic system.

“As both the EU and the UK have the same sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules in place, agreements on equivalence and the mutual recognition of each other’s rules must be accepted to ease the flow of these goods,” Kennedy said.

“Only when either partner makes a change to those SPS rules should it be necessary to require an export health certificate or customs declaration.”

On the specific issue of seed potatoes, he said the halt in trade had been particularly damaging to the high value, high health sector in Scotland due to the loss of lucrative EU markets.

He said that while the rapid action of Defra in applying for equivalence had been welcomed, it was hugely disappointing that the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed had see fit to continue to block the application on what he claimed were “increasingly spurious” grounds.

But with planting time approaching, he warned that the damage would extend into next year as well.

“Scottish seed potato growers need to decide now if they are to plant the varieties wanted in Europe or instead plant the processing varieties that growers in England will need to replace those that have normally been sourced on the continent.

Stating that the seed potatoes grown in 2021 would be the raw material for the crops grown in England and elsewhere in 2022, he said that immediate clarity was required to ensure the supply chain could adapt.

Kennedy also criticised the asymmetrical arrangement which allowed EU seed to come into the UK put domestic producers at a disadvantage and called for this to end.