Comment: Light at the end of the (Channel) Tunnel

Shared impact and interests go a long way in terms of getting things done on the ground, says Bell of Seafood Scotland. Picture: Contributed
Shared impact and interests go a long way in terms of getting things done on the ground, says Bell of Seafood Scotland. Picture: Contributed
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On a macro level, the one thing it seems that the country can agree on at the moment is that, to date, the Brexit process has been chaotic. Getting over the hurdle of a deal is an ongoing saga which may have anyone that depends on Europe for business crying into their coffee/café/kaffee.

On the ground, though, it seems that people are being a bit more collaborative. It is this spirit that led to Seafood Scotland, with several leading seafood companies and processors, recently being invited to the Port of Boulogne by the local Economic Development Agency and the Port Authority. A sub-prefecture of Calais, Boulogne is the go-to port for a significant chunk of Scotland’s exported seafood. As Scotland’s second largest export, and 60 per cent of its food export, the continued movement of UK seafood to Europe is crucial, and of great concern to the industry at present.

Boulogne processes 350,000 tonnes of seafood per year, 30 per cent of this from the UK, onto wider European destinations, traditionally voracious consumers of Scotland’s whitefish and shellfish.

The port, with 5,000 staff, is akin to a small town entirely dependent on this movement. Fish and shellfish are commonly a fresh product, so there is an understanding that hold ups are not just an inconvenience; they could irreparably damage an entire consignment, and further up the chain, perhaps even a livelihood.

However, thanks to an enlightened approach to the current and impending challenges, some forward planning and a stark recognition of the mutual benefit of these exports and the jobs they create in Europe, a solution has been found, and quietly put in place.

Shared impact and interests go a long way in terms of getting things done on the ground. From Dover, through the Channel Tunnel and into Calais, seafood consignments will be “green lit” straight to Boulogne, where border inspection will take place – a choreographed manoeuvre the French Government signed off just weeks ago.

The morning of our visit, some 130 lorries packed with seafood passed smoothly through the new route. Of course, the border inspection will click into place when it needs to, but the logistics are all present and correct, along with a willingness to make things work.

Fergus Ewing’s recent comments at the Scottish Seafood Summit back this spirit of “getting things done”. The Boulogne arrangements could even act as a template for other sectors to show challenges can be overcome, even in a highly regulated and time-sensitive environment.

If the implications of Brexit, whatever they may be, can spur a national government, agencies, authorities, and industry representatives into proactive, organised and calm action so that business can continue, then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope yet.

- Natalie Bell, head of trade marketing – Asia, Europe, Middle East at Seafood Scotland.