With Brexit looming Scotland's food and drink industry needs clarity, support and more time - John Davidson

Four years since the UK voted to leave the European Union, there are now fewer than 40 days until the end of the transition period and we are no closer to knowing the terms of trade with our largest, most valuable market.

John Davidson, Strategy and External Relations Director at Scotland Food & Drink

On 1 January 2021, everything changes for our exporters, importers and workforce. New tariffs will come into play, additional paperwork will be required, border checks will slow deliveries, and ending freedom of movement pose significant risks for Scotland’s food and drink.

The £15 billion industry is one of Scotland’s most successful sectors, directly employing 120,000 people, many in rural and coastal communities. In Scotland, food and drink contributes four times more to the economy than in a greater proportion to the national economy than the sectors in the rest of the UK.

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So securing trading terms that protects food and drink is vital for Scotland’s economy.

But time is running out.

The country has been in a transition period since February, although without clarity on what we’re transitioning to and Covid-19 to contend with, businesses have not been able to prepare for the new EU trading relationship.

The existing transition period has been displaced by surviving the impacts of Coronavirus which has cost the industry more than £3bn.

Preparing for Brexit in the 50 days remaining is simply impossible. That’s why on 4 November, Scotland Food & Drink alongside ten other industry leaders wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a six-month ‘grace period’ to bed-in the new trading framework alongside other measures.

The grace period would enable businesses to trade under the new rules without fear of border disruption, enforcement action and loss of revenue. Most critically for Scotland is the need for a six-month derogation from the requirement to produce export health certificates and other export certification.

Our fish exports are particularly at risk should border controls lead to delays. Consignments, which often include live shellfish, will become worthless very quickly if they’re delayed at borders. To prevent that, we called on the UK Government to finalise operational arrangements for the smooth passage of seafood across the Channel.

Even with these measures, the disruption caused from having to adopt to a new set of customs arrangements will inflict further financial damage on businesses who are already fighting for survival. The food and drink industry needs a package of financial compensation for businesses that encounter losses as a direct result of Brexit disruption.

Without financial support, some food and drink businesses will have to close as a direct result of Brexit.

It’s not only those who export that will be impacted. Industries like soft fruit rely on a seasonal workforce made up primarily of EU nationals. Our fish processing plants, restaurants, cafes and bars are similarly reliant on workers from overseas. Sectors like health and social care are rightly being insulated from the effects of Brexit on the workforce having been added to the Shortage Occupation List and I strongly believe that food and drink should be included too.

While we are calling on the government to act on protecting Scotland’s food and drink industry, we still do not know what the trading arrangements will be. What our industry needs is clarity, support and crucially; time.

John Davidson, Strategy and External Relations Director at Scotland Food & Drink

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