Michael Gove and Maroš Šefčovič urged to do more to help ease EU-UK trade barriers

Gove, a UK cabinet minister, and Commission Vice-President Šefčovič are currently trying to resolve trade issues with Northern Ireland but have been told they should broaden the scope of their discussions so that they also apply to the UK’s trading arrangements with the EU.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Feb 2021

Earlier this week, UK environment minister George Eustice said that the UK has suffered “one or two teething issues” in exporting fish to the EU after Brexit.

But the British Meat Processors Association, which represents some of the largest companies working in the British meat industry, says that current export issues “are patently not ‘teething problems’, despite what the UK government is trying to tell everyone.”

Commenting further, Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, said, “Barriers to trade are now so great that UK companies are setting up shop in the EU taking jobs and GDP with them.”

Allen said, “The UK is now a ‘third Country’ and subject to the same paperwork requirements as any other. But our third country customs system is not suited to the kind of daily, just-in-time food supply chain we've built up with the EU over the last 30 years.”

The situation was further highlighted recently with the temporary closure of popular community retailer Stonemanor, which was forced to close its two stores in Belgium last weekend following a disruption in its supply chain.

Stonemanor delivers up to 20,000 food products and other items from its Norfolk warehouse in the UK and has been serving expats and fans of British food specialities in Belgium since 1982.

The grocer said it was unable to confirm the delivery of its next truck because of Brexit paperwork.

“What we are sure of is that whatever is being discussed by Michael Gove and Maroš Šefčovič to ease trade barriers with Northern Ireland should also apply to trade with the EU” Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association

Separately, the EU has told the UK shellfish industry that thousands of tonnes of oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops exports will be banned from the bloc indefinitely.

British fishers, who had been told by the UK government to expect the ban to last until spring, are warning this will be a fatal blow to their businesses.

Small fishing firms have largely failed to export their goods to Europe after the post-Brexit introduction of catch and health certificates, customs declarations and higher transport costs made trade too expensive and too slow for EU buyers.

The export issues have been raised by the British Meat Processors Association, whose members are responsible for supplying fresh meat and meat products to retailers, restaurants and food service companies both in the UK and overseas.

It says the new border and customs regime has all but halted small, mixed, just-in-time deliveries of British pork chops, sausages and other meat products to supermarkets and customers in the EU and Northern Ireland.

Allen explained, “The problem is that it’s now not viable to send a single lorry load of mixed products from different UK businesses to different EU or Northern Irish customers to stock their shelves for the following few days.”

“We did hear of a lorry going to Northern Ireland taking just four pallets of a single product (it should have been carrying 23) to get supplies to a supermarket, but that’s not sustainable.”

“The new system is adding an average of 30 hours into the process, and the costs to ship these loads are now around 60 percent higher than last year.”

“Barriers to trade are now so great that UK companies are setting up shop in the EU taking jobs and GDP with them” Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association

“This is caused by a combination of additional charges from HMRC and their French counterpart, extra customs agents’ and veterinary charges to process the paperwork, and haulage charges that have risen four-fold due to delays at the border. On top of that, freight insurers are raising premiums or simply refusing to insure loads.”

He said, “There is one option for meat companies, which is to send one large load of a single product. But this is not how a Parisian supermarket wants to be supplied. Technically this load could be delivered into an EU hub and then further distributed to the customers, but this is not viable for all but the very largest meat companies.”

“One unintended consequence is that British firms are now registering EU businesses to bypass the export problems meaning Britain is now losing jobs and business.”

Because of the current situation Allen says that consignments of British meat heading to customers on the continent are still below 50 percent of normal volume, with some companies doing no exports at all.

“This inability to export the parts of the carcass that Brits don’t buy means that meat processing becomes less profitable which will eventually hit livestock prices for British farmers.”

He said, “Short of having to send an entire lorry load of pork chops there is not a complete solution to this problem, nor is there one that we in the UK can enact unilaterally. It’s going to require much more commercial cooperation between businesses as well as political cooperation between the UK and the EU to re-negotiate and re-design the system from top to bottom.”

“What we are sure of is that whatever is being discussed by Michael Gove and Maroš Šefčovič to ease trade barriers with Northern Ireland should also apply to trade with the EU.”

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