Post-Brexit customs checks ‘holding up seafood exports’

Dozens of lorries being held up due to problems with customs barcodes and a lack of veterinary service capacity.

Post-Brexit customs checks ‘holding up seafood exports’ Getty Images

Lorries laden with fresh seafood bound for the European Union are being held up in central Scotland due to logistical issues, according to the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association.

Jimmy Buchan said he was “extremely disappointed” that his members were being hit by “unnecessary delays” caused by problems with customs barcodes and a lack of veterinary service capacity.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Scotland’s seafood sector after France temporarily closed its border with the UK days before Christmas amid concerns over a new strain of Covid-19.

Customs arrangements in the wake of Brexit are causing delays as “entire trailers” need to be checked rather than samples, members of the Scottish seafood industry have said.

Dozens of Scottish lorries are being held up in queues at Larkhall and Dunkirk, northern France, over IT problems and customs barcodes. Some drivers have been waiting to move for more than 24 hours.

Buchan said: “Combined with computer problems on both sides of the English Channel, this is a worrying sign for the days and weeks ahead when the flow of produce will get much greater.  

“Trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity.

“Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked.”

The Scottish Seafood Association, which represents processors, says the problem is likely to get worse in the coming days as the pace of trade increases.

Some fishing and seafood companies have complained on social media that the export arrangements are a “shambles”.

Buchan said: “Things are tough enough due to Covid-19 without this on top. Ministers of both the UK and Scottish governments need to get on top of the situation and resolve these issues as soon as possible.” 

When the border with France was closed in December due to the new coronavirus strain emerging in the UK, the association warned that perishable seafood could go to waste if it was stuck in transit.

Following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, new rules around trade between the UK and EU came into force.

While little disruption was reported in the early days of the new arrangements, the volume of cross-border trade is expected to increase.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the government understands “how frustrating, time-consuming and indeed costly this is for Scottish businesses”.

He said: “We have been working with logistics companies to provide an EHC (export health certificate) service at a number of central Scotland logistics hubs, thereby reducing the burden on local authorities.  

“We are all learning – including businesses – how to manage the considerable burden of this new bureaucracy on exporting food products.

“We warned the UK Government that we needed much more clarity much sooner than we got on what the export process would involve after the transition period ended and that its plans to leave the single market would create barriers like this.”

Ewing said the Scottish Government has been engaging with businesses and organisations like the Scottish Seafood Association to make sure that “everyone knows what now needs to be done to get products to their key markets in the EU”.  

He said: “Food Standards Scotland has the necessary veterinary capacity at the hubs and we will continue to work closely with businesses and organisations to ensure that we are all doing everything possible to minimise delays and expedite product journeys.

“That includes applying an appropriate level of scrutiny to ensure that businesses are accurately completing all necessary paperwork.

“It is far better for problems to be identified and resolved here in Scotland and not have consignments being turned back hundreds of miles away or refused when they arrive at the end of their journey.”

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