Labour shortages and hurried trade deals spark fears in Scotland's red meat industry

Labour shortages and the threat to Scotland’s livestock sector presented by hurried free trade agreements - which could mean ‘everything is acceptable, if the price is right’ - rate high on the current concerns of those in Scotland’s red meat industry.

Alan McNaughton, SAMW

Speaking this week the president of Scotland’s meat processor trade body, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), said that some member companies were already suffering a 10-12 per cent shortfall in staffing levels, with considerable difficulties being faced in filling vacancies.

Elected recently to serve a second term at the head of the organisation, Alan McNaughton said these the shortfalls, which were a results of difficulties sourcing workers from abroad following Brexit, were putting processing systems under strain at many plants around the country.

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“Coinciding with a sudden burst of hot weather, which sent the demand for BBQ products ‘through the roof’, labour shortages are adding stress to the industry at a time when we are all seeking to recover from the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns and related regulations,” said McNaughton.

“Our assessment is that current labour issues are linked to the upheaval caused by the changes affecting EU workers since January 1 this year.”

He said it was an area which desperately needed to be sorted by the Home Secretary.

“One member told a recent SAMW executive committee meeting that the labour shortage is now his number one concern, which is quite a statement, given the Covid-19 pressures under which all businesses have been operating since March 2020.”

McNaughton also spelt out his organisation’s fears over the UK government’s approach to the negotiation of free trade agreements (FTAs).

“While we support free trade as an association, believing strongly in Scotland’s export strength and potential, it cannot be free trade at any price.

“In the complete absence of any detail from the UK International Trade Minister, the reports circulating in the media surrounding current FTA talks with Australia have not been comforting for members, not least because so little is known about what is being said behind closed doors.”

But what concerned SAMW members most was what might happen once the Australia deal had been concluded.

“If it is then used as a template to close similar free access deals with the USA, Brazil, and others, the exact terms of this first significant post-Brexit FTA are going to be crucial to our industry’s future.”

McNaughton stressed that it would not be acceptable for products to be imported into the UK which did not abide by the UK’s high standards of health, welfare, and safety.

“A future FTA structure in which everything is welcome if the price is right, will damage our domestic industry beyond repair,” he warned.

He said that SAMW was already working closely with other meat trade and farming bodies on both these issues and would be pursuing them individually and jointly with the Scottish government’s new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, and George Eustice, UK Defra Secretary of State.

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