The New Normal? No Sign of Border Obstacles Dissipating

13th January 2021 in Brexit, Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

With exports of fish and shellfish into the EU impeded by a range of border issues, Defra has formed a new stakeholder group to address the mounting crisis. The group containing fish exporters and representative bodies from the fish sector will meet twice weekly and feed conclusions up to the top of government. Delays of up to 96 hours have been encountered at the border. Such delays are is obviously fatal to the business of selling a perishable commodity like fresh fish and live shellfish. The failure to eradicate obstacles at the border has implications for everyone in the supply chain from fishing vessels facing a fall in first-sale prices, to upmarket restaurants in Paris and Madrid who are being denied access to the high-quality fresh fish and shellfish that their reputations have been built on.

The New Normal?  No Sign of Border Obstacles Dissipating

The first meeting of the group on 12th January, followed days of mounting evidence that the new border controls associated with the UK’s new status as a third country are more entrenched than is understood within government.

One of the difficulties faced is identifying the specific problems encountered, which can vary widely:

Some of the border problems encountered include:

  • Inadequate systems IT update
  • Lack of clarity on commodity codes on documentation
  • Different interpretation of the EU import rules at different EU entry points
  • Inexplicable delays after paperwork has been completed
  • Breakdown in the Calais/Boulogne transit arrangements
  • Catch certificates where consignments contain the catches of multiple vessels
  • Different levels of understanding what is required in order to successfully export
  • The challenges of pre-notification in the context of multiple consignments of a perishable commodity

Groupage, where multiple small consignments of fish are gathered at a regional hub for onward transport and export, have been particularly badly affected, although large scale exporters using their own designated transport are by no means immune.

As volumes of exports to the content ramp up after the Christmas break and understandable initial wariness by exporters to avoid being the pioneers of a new system, the problems with the new system are being felt most acutely in the fresh fish/live shellfish export sector.

There is a bitter irony for the fishing industry that its hopes for a new future as an independent coastal state was sacrificed by the government for unimpeded access to the European market – only to find that access to that market is anything but frictionless.

This mounting crisis in the export of fish and shellfish highlights the anomaly through which the UK has unilaterally provided a six-month period of grace for imports to the UK. Whilst EU products face frictionless trade, our exports hit a range of non-tariff barriers which have paralysed our export trade. There is an obvious case for parity as the various border issues are sorted out.

If this is indeed the new norm, it is clearly the case that many businesses in the supply chain will fail and jobs will be lost.