Food produce ‘worth millions’ at risk amid border closure

Scottish business chiefs issue warning after France bans freight traffic over fears of new coronavirus strain.

Food produce ‘worth millions’ at risk amid border closure Getty ImagesGetty Images
France has closed its border to freight traffic from the UK.

Food industry chiefs say urgent action is required to protect “perishable products worth millions” after France closed its border with the UK.

The restrictions at the Port of Dover, which handles more than £120bn in trade every year, is causing major disruption trying to hauliers with cargo bound for mainland Europe.

France announced the closure amid concerns were raised over the discovery of a new strain of Covid-19 in the UK.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said the “clock is ticking” to rescue millions of pounds worth of fresh produce.

He said: “We need the ban on freight moving across the English Channel lifted in the next 24 hours so products can start moving by Tuesday morning at the latest.

“We have heard from companies with dozens of lorries now stuck, having travelled overnight to Dover or the Eurotunnel which are now shut to incoming traffic.

“They are carrying perishable products worth millions and the clock is ticking for that product to survive these delays.

“We estimate there will be over £5m of Scottish food that would be been heading into France daily this week.”

He continued: “The timing of this could scarcely be worse for many businesses.

“There are critically important markets scheduled for Wednesday in France and Spain as part of the big pre-Christmas sales rush.”

Scottish Government export figures released last week indicate France remains the single largest importer of Scottish food and drink products.

Exports to France for the first nine months of 2020 are already down 11.3% on the same period the previous year.

Mr Withers added: “I entirely understand the concerns of France and others about this new strain of Covid-19. We’re all worried about it.

“However, France stands alone in introducing a freight ban, other EU countries have just focussed on restricting the travel of the general public.

“We need the UK Government to urgently agree a protocol for freight movements, with perhaps the testing of drivers able to provide the necessary reassurance.”

The Scottish Seafood Association (SSA) echoed his call, with chief executive Jimmy Buchan saying the move was a “disaster” for companies already hard hit by the first wave of the pandemic.

Mr Buchan said: “Not just for the sake of SSA members, but for the millions who enjoy our world-class seafood across Europe, we call upon the French, at the very least, to allow perishable goods to flow.

“These few days in the run-up to Christmas is hugely busy for a lot of our members, with seafood destined for all parts of the Continent going via France.

“Traditionally in Spain seafood is a major part of Christmas Eve, and most of our exports get there via the Eurotunnel or Dover-Calais routes, so it is a disaster for our members.

“For example, one relatively small company has £230,000 worth of live shellfish stuck at the border, with a further £250,000 worth ready to go.

“Another bigger outfit has £500,000 worth at Dover, and an additional £750,000 ready for despatch, all of which are just-in-time exports for the Christmas market.”

Scottish company Lochfyne Langoustines said it had “hundreds of thousands of pounds” of product heading to Dover.

In a tweet, it wrote: “There will be Vivier trucks from all over Scotland heading in that direction, millions of pounds worth of seafood at the time of the most important market of the year the last one before Xmas.

“Jesus if BREXIT wasn’t going to put us out of business by Tuesday this week we will be.”

In a post shared on Twitter by the French Embassy in the UK, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said: “In the next few hours, at European level, we’re going to establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume.

“Our priority: to protect our nationals and our fellow citizens.”